Creating Flexible Groups Based on Data

As we talk about understanding assessments and learning to apply data to classroom instruction, one way to use assessment data is for differentiation. Differentiation for educators is tailoring classroom instruction to meet diverse student needs. Sounds difficult, right?

In her book So What Do They Really Know: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning, Cris Tovani gave me a great way to think about differentiation:

Differentiation is about adjusting my instruction to meet more student needs. It isn’t about each student doing an elaborate, individualized project.

Creating Flexible Groups Based on Data - TLG-IMG-10162018 If we look at differentiation from this perspective, flexible grouping is one strategy which allows us to meet more student needs, even when teaching remotely. But even when you create groups, sometimes we get stuck on the flexible part. Let’s talk about ways that data might give you more flexibility with a classroom scenario.

On the last state assessment, your data showed that this year’s math class was divided into 2 groups (proficient/not proficient) on the standard related to measurement. Although you received this data in August, as a starting point, you could identify two groups the first few weeks of school and do some quick assessments to try and get a clearer picture on what aspects of measurement were strengths and stretches. If your district uses an interim assessment, such as MAP® Growth™, you will have access to more detailed information about students and specific standards and sub-standards (tip for partners: look at the Class Breakdown by Goal report).

Your plan for flexible grouping focused on measurement shapes up to look like this:

  • Form 2 groups based on state assessment – proficient/not proficient.
  • Administer short assessments focused on this year’s measurement standard to identify strengths and stretches within both groups.
  • Form new groups based on results of short assessments.
  • Tweet: Creating Flexible Groups Based on Data #edchat #education #teaching via @kdyer13Administer the district’s interim assessment. Analyze those results (the evidence of student learning) and triangulate with the state assessment and your classroom observations.
  • Form new groups based on data triangulation. You may have two sets of groups, one that focuses on expanding students’ strengths and one set that focuses on addressing students’ stretches.

As you can see from this scenario, we formed and reformed groups three times in probably the first six weeks of school. We made assessment data actionable. If you’re still working on creating small groups (or just getting started), use your interim assessment results now and begin triangulating your data. Additionally, as you get better at narrowing the instructional focus for these groups, students get better at learning what they need to know and to do, which causes you to flex the membership and focus of each group once more.

Differentiating with flexible groups works best when based on data. You have a wide variety of data at your fingertips from district or school assessments, to classroom assessments, your formative assessment, and your own observations. Increasingly using that data and becoming data literate means that you can enhance your differentiation skills. While we want all students to meet the same success criteria, how they meet those criteria is the key to differentiation.

In a recent webinar, I talked about the seven must-ask questions to make the most of your fall testing – and one of them was, “How do you group students for instruction?” For all of the questions you can answer with fall data, check out the recorded webinar here. And for support with flexible grouping during remote instruction, read “How to use flexible grouping remotely.”


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