My new job with Data Teams

So if you didn’t already know I have a new position that takes place out of the classroom.  I am a resource teacher that is part of the Complex Area Support Team with focus on Formative Instruction/Data Teams.  To say I am learning a lot is an UNDERSTATEMENT.  But let’s get down to it, the real reason for this blog post is mainly as a long comment to Nicora Placa’s post about the hinderance that the large amounts of data put on teachers.  Just because you have LOTS of data doesn’t mean it is really worth anything.

“Data are only as good as the assessments used to gather them.”

100% true! You get what you put in right?!  You put out a shitty test you will receive shitty data that won’t help you change your instructional practice enough to generate student growth.

This brings me to Nicora’s next statement:

“A lot of data I see collected in schools are from multiple choice tests that are supposed to reveal who mastered a standard and who didn’t.”

let’s be REALLY clear here.  There is NO WAY for you as  teacher to really determine what a student has “mastered” (I hate that word being used in education like this) from a multiple choice test that is “assessing” 5+ standards.  This multiple choice test is not going to inform your instruction at all!  Even if a student did answer a (or a handful of) multiple choice problem(s) correctly, can we safely assume that they know the content?  What are the chances of them guessing the answer correctly?  Does that mean they have really “MASTERED” it??!!  How do you REALLY know that? Because they checked the correct box with the correct answer?

Let me ask you this?  Did you see their thought process?  Were you able to see the steps they were thinking about while solving that problem?  As most GREAT mathematics teachers (and mathematicians) know mathematics is NOT about getting the CORRECT answer it is about the problem solving process.  It is about critical thinking and being able to justify the process you are taking to solve a problem.  To tell you the truth when I correct tests in my classroom the answer doesn’t even matter to me.  I am looking for their work and thought process.  How does a multiple choice problem give me ANY of this?  Plain and simple IT. DOESN’T.

So in my new line of work, I am working with a variety of schools in our complex area trying to help them implement the “data team” process successfully.  The data team process is basically what most teachers do already…They use data to inform their practice of teaching, make instructional changes, alter teaching methods or lesson plans or classroom activities in order to increase student achievement.  In a nutshell, you can’t keep teaching from Chapter 1 to the end of the book and only give students unit tests and then move on no matter if they understand it or not.  THAT  process doesn’t work and never has worked!  So teachers are asked to look at data that will inform their practice.  Looking at data is NOT A NEW THING!  Everyone has looked at data in education however looking at data on a classroom level and CHANGING your teaching practices in order to address what the data is telling you, MIGHT be new to you.

Now I don’t presume to say that I know all the answers and that you should listen to me and do what I say!  With that said I will continue on with my post….

Nicora is talking about these multiple choice tests that aren’t going to help me as a teacher in my classroom.  However, when I was trained on a lot of this data team stuff and with the experience from my classroom, I have come to learn that the best data comes from well made assessments.  OF COURSE THEY DO!  Now what does that mean?  Basically the data is coming from an assessment that is MADE BY TEACHERS!  YES YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT!  MADE BY THE TEACHER!  WOW!  It baffles me that this concept seems so profound when I mention it to teachers.  Yes, I get it you don’t have enough time.  “when am I going to find the time, how am I going to score it?” etc.  And now we start that whole conversation of are you going to continue to participate in the blame game or are you going to be that change agent?

So what I am saying is to have teachers create “common formative assessments” for priority standards in their classrooms.  Pick standards that are the essence of the class/content they are teaching.  Then build an assessment around that standard.  Here are some great tips to what this assessment should look like:

  • No more than 1-3 standards being addressed in one assessment.
  • No more than 10 problems on the assessment (I say no more than 8 but I let 10 slide).
  • Have a variety of questions types: T/F, constructed response, short answer, multiple choice.
  • Questions that have a higher depth of knowledge level or cognitive level.
  • Make sure it is FOCUSED and specific to the standard(s) you are wishing to seek information about.
  • KEEP IT SIMPLE!  Don’t get wrapped up in the ridiculous stuff, sweet and to the point.

Now you are asking me: “You want me to CREATE this assessment out of NOWHERE?  Where do I get these questions you speak of?”  A variety of resources are available online at, use whatever curriculum you have to pull good questions from, go over to Fawn Nguyen’s site she has AMAZING stuff there, or anyone really on twitter has GREAT stuff.  I mean how many resources do you need to make a <10 question test? I have seen one question common formative assessments be able to give loads of data to a teacher.  Think quality not quantity.

This  step is where your data is going to make a difference in comparison to those pre-made multiple choice tests that you are used to.  Since this assessment was made to be so focused and made by the teacher, the data you get from it should help you determine what actions in the classroom need to be addressed. What do you need to change in your teaching practice? What do you need to add or take away?  Maybe it is as simple as clarifying a misconception that students had when you initially had the discussion with them.  Who knows what it could be but now you are at the point where the DATA means something!  It is valuable data!  It is not some generic data that is generated from a multiple choice test that some company created. Instead it is an assessment created by a teacher (or group of)  in order to inform your teaching practice.

But NOW WHAT?!  I mean now that we know what students are understanding or the misconceptions they are having what do you do to help them?  This is the hard part……You change what is happening in your class.  You change how you are teaching that concept. You start using manipulatives, looking for better resources to teach concepts instead of the one resource you have been using, you start implementing content based routines like counting circles or estimation180 activities, visual patterns.  You start having students explain their thinking on a regular basis either written or verbal or both.  How I see it is….you do WHATEVER it takes to help students understand that concept.  Does the process stop here…..?  NO WAY!  You continue this ongoing cycle to check for understanding and continually update and refine your teaching practice in order to make sure you are helping students learn and be successful in whatever content area you are teaching.

This process is what I have started to help schools systematize.  One of the things that constantly gets in the way of allowing this process to be successful is the lack of time.  When schools and teachers realize how CRUCIAL this process is to student achievement they start building “data team” time into their schedules.  They start relying on this time to help with their professional practice.  If your school already has this time built in, I encourage you to take initiative and start partaking in this process.  Start creating and looking at useful data that allows you to change your professional practice.  Don’t settle for being average, start pushing yourself to the limit of infinity or to that asymptote because in the end you can ALWAYS get incrementally better no matter what how awesome of a teacher you are!

My new job with Data Teams

4 thoughts on “My new job with Data Teams

  1. Mr.Atkinson says:

    As a teacher with first hand experience with multiple kinds of assessments I completely agree that good teacher created assessments focusing on a single standard give the most meaningful information. I wonder if you have some research that could help me convince others that it is true beyond individual classrooms?

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