Three Keys to Effective, Actionable Assessment Data

Over the years, I have seen the phrase “data-driven instruction” become such a driving force in our schools that some principals became data collectors in order to survive the new accountability pressure. 

There are three keys to getting the most from assessment data: getting it to the teachers quickly, time for teachers to meet, and a plan to use the data.These are the words of Lillie Jessie in her blog Data, Data Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink at ALLTHINGSPLC. And they are likely the sentiments of many teachers who just want to teach and not concern themselves with the assessment data collected every time a student takes a test. But there is value in the assessment data, whether it comes from interim or formative assessment, or even from summative results. It just has to be used correctly.

As Lillie mentions in her piece, many principals and administrators use the data for presentations, and many teachers collect the data but perhaps don’t use it correctly. In fact, she points out four data collector ‘types’ in her blog that use the data, but not necessarily to its utmost potential.

We’ve talked about 3 keys to making data actionable – timeliness, understandability and the ability to apply. Lillie ends her post by talking about the time to apply. Scheduling time as close as possible after any interim, benchmark or summative assessment supports all three of the action keys.

  • Provide teachers access to the data as soon as possible after the administration of the assessment. Whether through the assessment system, a data warehouse, SIS or a spreadsheet, get the data to the teachers immediately so the action can begin; time is of the essence!
  • Schedule time for teachers to meet – grade level, content or vertical teams, staff meetings, data teams, PLCs, TLCs, whatever system you use for teacher collaboration. This time should be regular and even habit forming, in fact. In the beginning, teachers will need some basic aspects of data literacy to fully understand what they see in the data and to be able to talk about it in quantifiable language.
  • Provide time for teachers to plan to apply the data. Teachers will have the opportunity to deepen their data literacy as they become more adept at knowing which kinds of data to use for which decision. These habits of regularly looking at data and then acting upon it to advance student learning can be reinforced by dialoguing in a systemic way about the data. A variety of protocols exist to foster these habits from the data conversation tools used in NWEA’s Coaching Services to Critical Friends protocols for looking at student work.

Lillie mentioned, and we all hear, ‘there’s too much testing… just let them teach!’ Testing is critical and of tremendous value if the data are used properly. High-quality assessments can and should empower teachers and improve the teaching and learning process, and beyond the three keys above, there are many resources to help educators get the most from assessment data.

Not too long ago, our resident expert Dr. Anne Udall wrote a piece that shared some resources. Head over to her post – 13 Resources for Making the Most of Assessment Data – and check it out.

What do you think are some keys to making data actionable? If you’re a teacher, how do you make the most out of assessment data in your classroom?