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Teaching Data-Driven Instruction to Teachers: Rethinking Assessment Practices

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Data-driven instruction is multi-faceted. The way a superintendent, principal, and teacher perceive and apply data-driven instruction differs significantly. Therefore, clarity must be communicated when data driven practices are being emphasized within a school community.


The figure below, the Assessment Tiers, provides that clarity- a visual representation of assessment methods and their characteristics.


Summative assessments are the overarching assessments that students take. There are three types: district-level, school-level, and classroom-level.

District-level summative assessments are administered once or twice a year, such as the state exam. They cover a wide range of learning standards in a particular subject, such as Literacy or Math. These types of assessments provide a vast range of data that can be used to assist districts in overarching areas of improvement for standards within a subject. Often, school leaders, supervisors, and district personnel will code and analyze these assessments as a means for creating goals and new initiatives for the district. These summative assessments are particularly useful for illustrating a picture of the collective academic well-being of the school-community.


School-level summative assessments occur with more frequency, 3-4 times a year, and include assessments such as benchmark tests and performance exams. These assessments are also aggregated, analyzed and provide feedback of individual school performance of state standards. School-leadership will use the information to identify gaps in learning, overarching instructional themes, and specific next steps, such as goal-setting for the school.


Classroom-level summative assessments occur 1-2 times a month, such as unit exams, projects, maybe even quizzes. Teachers analyze scores for their whole-class and the information is used to identify gaps and patterns in standards and learning objectives so that curriculum and unit-plan decisions can be made. These assessments are also analyzed at an individual level to provide information, such as a students’ reading level or writing proficiency. Teachers may use this information to provide targeted instruction or pre-determine student groups for a project or upcoming lesson.


Traditionally, formative assessments are defined as those which gather information and feedback about students' understanding of content or a skill during the learning process. While formative assessments certainly measure student understanding, they are rarely effectively used during instruction. Rather, teachers inadvertently formatively assess at the end of learning as a measure of mastery, such as through exit tickets, homework, or quizzes.


The conventional execution of this formative assessment approach isn't a viable long-term strategy for educators. To illustrate, exit tickets demand post-lesson analysis and adjustments for the following day's lesson. Quizzes necessitate grading, along with more extensive data compilation and organization, making it challenging for teachers to promptly integrate remedial instruction. Thumbs up and thumbs down responses, on the other hand, fall more into the category of self-assessment, providing teachers with limited tangible evidence of students' comprehension or lack thereof regarding the lesson content.


So, redefine formative assessment to be an assessment that occurs multiple times throughout the week and assesses students' mastery after teachers have implemented relevant targeted interventions and ensured comprehension of the material.


And let’s teach our teachers the Check for Understanding.


The Check for Understanding measures the progress of mastery during a lesson. It concretely checks the pulse of individual understanding. Teachers will use this information to modify their lesson plans so that individual’s can receive appropriate and targeted remediation to fill in the gaps demonstrated in the assessment. The key is that the remediation comes before students are asked to demonstrate their mastery of the skill. A Check for Understanding is low-prep and very specific. More on the Check for Understanding here.


To define how data-driven instruction looks within the classroom requires a shift in how we understand it, and then the explicit teaching of how to do it. Supervisors, administrators, and instructional leadership- when emphasizing data-driven instruction, be clear as to what you are looking for and how often. The Assessment Tiers visual can be a guide.


Let's give our teachers what they need: an assessment method that is low-prep, sustainable, and can happen everyday. Let’s teach them the Check for Understanding.


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