Students are learning via a variety of instructional modalities, including face-to-face, virtual and hybrid instruction. As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising again, schools are shifting between instructional models to flex with changing health safety guidelines and local community dynamics. Educators at all levels are making Herculean efforts to keep up with these challenges and to provide the best possible instruction for students.
In this oscillating climate, educators must pivot quickly to adapt—guided by data—to have the greatest impact on student learning. The ability to rapidly access, analyze and evaluate data—across multiple assessments and platforms (along with other types of data)—is critical to making decisions about instruction, programming and interventions.
The impact of COVID-19 on student learning
A recent study conducted by NWEA, Brown University and the University of Virginia published in the journal Educational Researcher, projects “Students are likely to return in Fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.” The study goes on further to state, “We estimate that losing ground during the COVID-19 school closures would not be universal, with the top third of students potentially making gains in reading.”
In short, not every student will be impacted in the same way, nor to the same degree. Equity plays a large role in the learning gaps between individual students resulting from a variety of elements including prior achievement, socioeconomic factors, access to technology and internet, teacher training on virtual instruction, support within the home, and more.
Why is data-driven instruction more important than ever?
While assessments can be powerful tools to identify student needs or monitor student progress/growth, assessments are only powerful when the data is analyzed and applied to drive instruction. Educators must use data to take action for data to have any utility. Otherwise, it’s just more test data.
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In Paul Bambrick Santayo’s book, Driven by Data, he writes that schools need to change their focus from, “what is taught” to “what is learned.” The impact of the pandemic on student learning and the ongoing transitioning of learning environments escalates the necessity of this shift in focus. The greatest barrier to moving from assessment to action is the deep and meaningful analysis of assessment data. Analysis requires the “systematic examination of assessment data to thoroughly determine students’ strengths and weaknesses, then taking the necessary steps to address their needs,” states Bambrick-Santayo.
Optimize getting from assessment to action
According to Bambrick-Santayo, the first core driver of analysis includes “user-friendly reports.” Time is the new premium. There isn’t the time, nor resources, available to build complex spreadsheets to facilitate comparing data across multiple assessment platforms. The skill level at which educators can analyze data varies as greatly as the instructional levels among students. Safety protocols, preparation for virtual learning classes, and the new logistics/daily routines of instruction have removed any “extra” time that was once nominally available.
Educators need tools that help analyze data across multiple platforms—quickly, easily, and seamlessly. They want tools that provide easy-to-read reports, where computerized systems “crunch the numbers for them.” These tools should rapidly disaggregate or aggregate student assessment data at the student, class, grade, building or district level—by subject, standard or objective—all within a few clicks…not hours or days.
Dynamic platforms empower educators to change views rapidly in order to identify trends, gaps, and areas of need. They help educators filter different types of student data, including achievement, attendance, behavior, demographic and perception data, so that schools and districts are able to analyze the needs of the whole child. In a perfect world, this should be available in one online platform (not multiple systems with different logins that require manual massaging of data between platforms). Data must be accessible anytime, anywhere, to adapt to changing school environments.
A “new normal” guided by data
Perhaps COVID-19 will accelerate the implementation of data-driven instruction to permeate more substantially in everyday educational practice. The easier data analysis is, the more it frees educators to spend their time taking meaningful action with students. Educational leaders must also purposefully set aside time to infuse deep and meaningful data analysis, planning, and action into the school culture.
It’s not that educators don’t have enough access to data. It’s that educators need to easily convert that data into intelligence…and intelligence into action. Only then, can educators focus their time, energy, expertise, and passion on what they do best—educating and developing today’s learners!
Linda Kraft is Director of Customer Experience with Munetrix, a Michigan-based data analytics and management firm serving school districts and municipalities across the country. She can be reached at [email protected]. Learn more at munetrix.com.