Tom Hierck has been an educator since 1983 in a career that has spanned all grade levels. He has been a teacher, an administrator, a district leader, a department of education project leader, and an executive director.

Data as a Flashlight: Using the Evidence to Guide the Journey (Yours and Theirs)

My granddaughter was struggling with the latest topic in her grade 3 math class and her recent assessment result validated that she did not fully understand the learning target of patterns and the equations that supported them. Determining patterns is not always an easy process as this example would indicate:

2, 6, 3, 9, 6, 18, 15…

With a big test coming up, my daughter-in-law reached out to me to help get my granddaughter past the block and gain some confidence in her ability to master the concept. We connected online a few times over the days before the test and worked through a lot of questions and strategies. As she grasped the concepts and different ways to get to the solution, I could see her confidence soar. By the time we concluded all of the practice and she routinely got every solution, she was excited to demonstrate her skills on the assessment. As I write this post it’s been well over a week since the assessment was completed and my granddaughter has not received any feedback. 

This is a problem that occurs more frequently than is acceptable. My advice (with limited exception) to colleagues is to not give any assessment that you can’t get graded and returned to your students the next day. The longer it takes for the evidence to be shared, the greater the challenge to remediate and close any gaps in learning. I’m assuming that the math lessons for my granddaughter have continued into the next learning target while she awaits the feedback on the previous one. What will happen if she receives the information two weeks after the assessment? Will there be an opportunity to have some reteaching? Or will the class be too deep into the next lessons to close the gap

I understand the challenge when educators suggest time is a determinant in ensuring proficiency on the priority learning targets. However, educators would be well-served by having a process for discussing evidence and ensuring that what’s identified as priority (need to know) is achieved by all students and not just those who are “first time smart.” Responding to the evidence in a timely fashion helps to close the gap. As a teacher, I knew I could reteach the last five minutes of instruction in a different way for students who did not get it the first time. I also knew I could not reteach the last three weeks in an effective manner. The longer we wait to gather and share the evidence, the greater the likelihood that only previously proficient students will indicate proficiency.

In our book Assessing Unstoppable Learning, Angela Freese and I talk about a five-step process that educators working in their PLC teams can follow. This procedure ensures that quality assessments deliver quality evidence to allow teachers to make the necessary adjustments as students work towards mastery of the priority learning targets. Here are the five tasks that teams can engage in (a longer version of these steps with supporting questions is available on the Solution Tree website):

Task 1 Pre-Meeting Work

Team members commit to reviewing their individual and collective team data prior to the meeting so they may share observations and ask questions.

Task 2 Data Organization

Teams should identify the criteria they will use to describe levels of learning (for example: proficient, progressing, or beginning) evidenced from the student work. Analyzing the data based on the criteria allows teams to determine the number of students who demonstrated mastery of each learning goal.

Task 3 Review and Prioritization

Organizing Our Thoughts

  • Individually record up to five observations about the data (use sticky notes and place one observation per note.)
  • Individually record up to five questions about the data (use sticky notes and place one observation per note.)
  • Which observations and questions were common? What celebrations do you see? What priorities emerge?

Prioritizing Our Thoughts

  • Make one summary statement for each cluster that represents a similar idea.
  • Discuss the level of importance for each statement (How important is it that we respond to this evidence?) and the level of satisfaction with each statement (Is this something that is positive or that we want to improve?) 

Task 4 Categorization 

Sort each statement into one of three categories: sustain, monitor, or improve

Focus on the improvement areas you’ve identified:

  • What additional questions need to be asked?
  • What additional information do you need to move forward?

Task 5 Reflection and Transparency

Teams should discuss and record their responses to the following:

  1. How will we organize reteaching learning outcomes students did not achieve, and who will take the lead (which teacher)?
  2. How will we organize extension activities for those students achieving the learning outcomes, and who will take the lead (which teacher)?
  3. What additional information or resources do we need as a result of our evidence-based analysis?
  4. What is our next step as a result of today’s learning?

This requires educators to have a plan for the delivery of their priority content over the course of the school year with time built in for reteaching the content students did not master. It requires a desire to provide additional time and opportunity for those students who were not “first time smart.” It means that the content established as “need to know” is treated as such and efforts are made, and guarantees provided, with the outcome being that all students will learn, and at the highest level. 

When I think of investing the time to ensure all students learn, I am reminded of a John Wooden quote: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Planning for all students to master the essential learning targets requires practical steps in identifying those targets, designing instruction to have all students master the targets, assessing based on those targets, and responding to the evidence when it indicates learning has not occurred so that remediation can occur. Mostly it involves a timely response so that students know what they know, what they don’t know, and how their teacher will help them close the gap. 

As a postscript, and because my granddaughter was back to a remote learning schedule, we were able to review all of the questions and I am confident she has mastered the content. I wonder about any other students who struggled and didn’t have an educator in their lives. I hope they’ll receive feedback in a manner that still allows for any gaps to be closed.

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