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Data-Tracking: Create a System by Design, Not by Default

Updated: Feb 23

A few years ago, I worked with a principal who was committed to guiding her teachers toward using specific skills and strategy language during discussions about students. She wanted them to be able to, during their Intervention and Referral meetings and parent conferences and observation debriefs, speak to the concrete evidence of students’ areas of proficiency and growth.

She wanted them to move from, “Oh, they struggle when writing a paragraph,” to, “Based on these three tasks, Pat struggles when developing a topic sentence and finding details to directly support it.”

Our Solution

To achieve specificity and clarity in what students know, are able to do, and need further support it, this principal streamlined data-collection processes within classrooms. We broke the work up into two parts: Part 1 focused on the Check for Understanding framework- the assessment strategy that allows teachers to administer, sort, and actually use data, all within a lesson. More on that here.

Part 2 focused on developing a common method for tracking data so that teachers could refer to it when engaging in student-based conversations.

Together, we developed a tracker that

  • collected student performance information based on standards or skills

  • was easily accessible 

  • could be utilized during classroom instruction

  • aligned with the school or district grading system

  • could be created quickly and easily

Your Teachers Need This

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in their report Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, found that 67 percent of teachers surveyed said they aren’t fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data they receive from data-collection tools. 

Conversations with teachers on the ground support the data. Teachers will frequently express that their system for “taking notes” on students are cumbersome, overwhelming, lack organization, time-consuming, and are often encouraged by school leaders to prioritize “teaching to the test.”

The shift in true data-driven conversations happens when teachers have the data-language to refer to. The data-language comes from micro data collection and tracking it.

It is incumbent upon administrators and instructional coaches to show classroom teachers how to set up a tracker as a sustainable system and how to use that tracker so that it turns into a valuable tool.

The Tracker Non-Negotiables

There are four pillars to an effective tracker: 


It is essential that the date be provided so that growth over time can be easily monitored.

Student names

Incorporating every student name emphasizes the collection of data for every student, rather than just a select few.

Lift this from any student roster or grading system. Keep the students in the same order that they are in your system so that any information can be easily transferred between platforms.

Skill, standard, task, or behavior 

The teacher must be able to identify the name of the skill or task that is the focus of the Check for Understanding. What is it exactly that the teacher is looking for within the math problem, or social studies concept, or paragraph, etc.? In many school’s, this information can be lifted straight from curriculum or grading systems that may have the standards or skills included.

Proficiency levels

Proficiency levels refer to the teacher's assessment of a student's current standing in a particular skill. Generally represented as 1. Y for Yes, indicating proficiency; 2. A for Almost proficient; and 3. NY for Not Yet proficient in the skill. Teachers may also place percentages underneath each level so that when it comes to grading, everything aligns. 

Upon gaining precise insight into students' comprehension of a specific skill, standard, or content or even behavior, the remediation, differentiation, and conversations that follow reveal trends, not just scores.

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