DA op-ed: Leveraging the ‘extra information’ in the grade book

How various types of data work together to provide the full picture of a student’s skills and knowledge
By: | Issue: April, 2019
March 28, 2019
Lori Koerner is the principal of Tremont Elementary School in the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island, New York.

I taught in a classroom for 26 years prior to becoming an administrator. Over the years, I’ve realized that when educators hear the word “data,” the first things that come to mind are numbers and test scores. At a time when data-driven instruction stands at the forefront of every decision we make, we must understand that data means more than the typical benchmark or state assessment.

There are various forms of data. By discussing data here, I hope more educators will feel validated knowing that the “extra information” we once hid in the back of our grade books provides key evidence of student growth.

In fact, that extra information probably gives us the best data to use when determining programs for children, assessing their acquisition of knowledge and planning for the next steps in instruction. We must consider multiple measures of data, as one set of data never shows the whole picture of a student’s learning profile.

Different data lenses

Diagnostic, formative, summative, and portfolio- and performance-based assessments hold equal importance for determining student growth. We can use them together, as each set of data offers a different lens into students’ learning styles and acquisition of skills. Here’s how the assessments are used.

  • Diagnostic assessments are tests or check-ins done at the beginning of a lesson or unit. These can come in any form—entrance tickets, quick checks, verbal dialogue, wipe-off paddle boards and Post-it notes, among others. They determine where students are in the learning process. Teachers can offer a diagnostic assessment days prior to a lesson to analyze the data and determine the path for instruction.
  • Formative assessments are similar to diagnostic assessments, but implementation occurs during the lesson or unit. Formative assessments also come in various forms, and it is necessary to evaluate them. Keep in mind that if your formative assessments bore you, they will bore students.
    Formative assessments may present themselves as flipbooks, posters, charts, dioramas, trioramas, vocabulary quilts, math wheels, oral reports, PowerPoint presentations, surveys and questionnaires for self-reflection. When you check in with your students, provide an answer and ask them to use backward design to arrive at the question.Or, ask students to find multiple pathways to a specific idea or mathematical sum. Whatever the method, always make sure that students show what they know, and that teachers analyze the data to determine students’ understanding and the next steps in differentiating instruction.

Read: Are your teachers data literate?


  • Many of the formative assessments mentioned above can also be used as summative assessments. If you put a score on a formative assessment, it becomes summative. Formative data allows teachers to give students focused feedback, while summative data determines the overall learning of a particular skill or content area at the end of a lesson or unit.
  • Performance and portfolio assessments allow students to share, in their own style, how and what they have learned. We should offer optimal opportunities for all types of learners to display their knowledge base and expand upon a variety of skill sets.
    For example, a student who creates a PowerPoint presentation, writes a short script or creates a video stretches their abilities by tapping into their other interests and skills.

As we’ve seen, data should play an innovative and creative role in modern teaching and learning. Education leaders should provide ongoing, quality professional development that lets teachers collaborate on best practices for assessment and data evaluation.

Lori Koerner is the principal of Tremont Elementary School in the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island, New York.