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How Educators Can Use Student Data to Drive Instruction

June 11, 2020

Teacher sitting at desk using tablet.

While educators have long used data-driven instruction to improve student success, the benefits of using student data to inform and enhance teaching methods are now widely recognized among teachers, educators, and administrators.

One common misconception about data-driven instruction is that it only focuses on teaching methods that lead to higher test scores. In reality, data-driven instruction looks at the whole picture and uses dynamic student data to gauge individual and classroom comprehension, giving teachers insight into specific adjustments they can make to the curricula to improve student understanding. The use of student data to drive instruction also allows teachers to tailor their teaching methods to encourage student achievement.

Not only is this strategy beneficial to students, but teachers gain valuable experience and expertise by tracking student data and seeing exactly which teaching methods are working and where there is room for improvement. Teachers can apply these findings to future classes and will have the necessary skills to evaluate the effectiveness in their teaching methodology and refine curricula to maximize student success.

Data-driven instruction also creates a more supportive and constructive school culture. It stops placing blame on the student for a lack of comprehension and instead creates a more supportive environment where students and teachers share responsibility. As a result of this dynamic, students feel supported and encouraged to succeed.


Ways Teachers Can Collect Student Data

Teachers can collect data in a number of ways. The more traditional methods include the use of formal assessments, such as tests, essays, or final projects, to gather information. Assessments demonstrate individual progress and illustrate trends in the classroom as a whole. Observation is another method for gathering data. By watching a class, teachers can see how well students, both individually and collectively, understand and interact with content. Then, they can decide whether they need to review and modify any components.

In addition to assessments and observation, teachers gather data from their day-to-day interactions with students. Many factors, such as attendance, the diagnosis of a medical condition, and how involved parents are in a student’s education, might influence academic performance. These different types of interactions create data that teachers can use to analyze and refine their curricula.


How to Use Student Data to Drive Instruction

To start utilizing data to increase student success, educators should work collaboratively with all teachers, administrators, and district leaders to implement the necessary steps in their schools.


Establish Colleague and Administrator Buy-In

Showcasing the achievements of schools that are using student data to drive instruction will allow educators and administrators to see the benefits of adopting this practice. Professional development workshops and teacher training provide opportunities for teachers to acquire the tools they need to collect and analyze data and implement these systems in their classrooms. Consistent check-ins and meetings help keep everyone on track, create opportunities for collaboration and accountability, and help foster a data-driven culture.


Invest in the Right Data Management Tools

Teachers can leverage technological tools to help them manage and track large amounts of data without feeling overwhelmed. A number of effective educational technology programs are designed to collect student data safely and to organize it in a way that’s easy to understand and analyze. When looking for a data management program, educators and administrators should ask the following key questions:

  • Is it easily accessible to all teachers?
  • Does it provide consistent data?
  • Does it provide adequate security to protect student information and data?

Set Thoughtful Data Points to Track

Avoid the pitfall of gathering too much information by limiting the focus to essential data points. Discern which topics are fundamental to student success, such as the subjects required to graduate or topics included on the SATs, and consider the timeliness of different data sets. Instead of waiting until the end of the unit, track student performance throughout the unit to allow room for adjustments to be made to the curriculum if needed.


Analyze the Data and Identify Gaps and Opportunities

The results will show which steps have worked and where there is room for improvement. Teachers may find that student test scores improve when they give tests early in the week instead of on Fridays. That insight provides an opportunity to optimize student performance through a simple modification. Conversely, data might reveal that students in a certain grade level are not reaching district standards in geometry, for example, which uncovers gaps in the curriculum.


Turn Data Into Action

Teachers should build their lesson plans with the findings from student data in mind, focusing on improving any skill deficiencies, as well as understanding which learning activities and teaching methods have been successful. Classes with lower overall test scores should receive targeted support from the administration to make sure teachers have what they need to meet students’ needs. All changes made as a result of data analysis should be tracked in order to gauge their efficacy.


Share Findings Among Educators

Collaboration is a key element of success when it comes to data-driven instruction. Once educators have collected and analyzed data, made the resulting modifications, and tracked the changes for success or failure, they can communicate their findings to their administrators. Educators should use supporting charts or graphs to illustrate what practices have worked, what problems persist, and any insights that may benefit the educational community as a whole.


Learn More About Using Student Data to Drive Instruction

The recent strides education has taken toward promoting student success have made careers in the field more rewarding than ever. If you’re interested in advancing your career in education, learn about how the LSU Online Master of Education in Educational Leadership prepares educators to become innovative and impactful leaders in and out of the classroom.


Recommended Readings

Leadership Styles in Education

Educational Leadership Philosophy

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Educational Leadership


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