The Chicken or the Data?

The Chicken or the Data?

Which comes first in your language classroom, the student, or the data tied to that student? Fortunately, the answer to that question is not an either/or response. In fact, do an Internet search for “Teachers and Data” and you will quickly find multiple approaches for gathering data about our students. You will see an increasing amount of literature about the need for teachers to not just have ‘assessment literacy’, but ‘data literacy’ as well. To highlight this point, the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards will unveil a new component this fall, which will ask teachers to show how they incorporate data about and from their students, families, and communities into their decision-making processes.

Assessments such as Avant STAMP 4S, and solid ongoing data-gathering practices are two tools teachers can employ as they build their assessment and data literacy skills. The data provided from Avant STAMP 4S at the end of the academic year provided me food for thought as I reflected over the summer on what the data revealed and in response refined my fall teaching plans. STAMP is a proficiency-based tool comprised of performances by students in the 4 domains of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. In this case the data came first and provided a reference for reflection on my instructional choices and material selections that previous year, and how to improve those going forward.

As students entered my classroom in the fall I surveyed them, to learn about their interests and experiences and learning preferences. Those surveys provided another data set to reflect on and incorporate into my plans.  In this case the students came first, and the data from them helped me to make decisions about topics, themes, types of authentic resources, and technology choices among others. 

In between that survey and the end-of-the-year delivery of Avant STAMP 4S, I made many instructional choices, all of which provided data about my students’ ability to use language in context. Some of this data proved students were able to perform tasks at the expected proficiency level, other data helped me understand how a few students were falling short of the expectation, and other data would cause me to throw up my arms in exasperation at my failure to reach the students but help me to learn how to reteach an entire instructional sequence in a new way.

Data is a not an either/or proposition, rather it implies action based on a dynamic relationship and iterative process that evolves with the identified needs of our classrooms. How ‘data literate’ are you? If you have not already been asked to provide data analysis of your students, assessments, or teaching practices, it won’t be long before this happens. Because most teacher preparation programs and in-school professional development offerings do not address this need, teachers will be expected to self-learn this skill. Your journey toward data literacy might begin with this U.S. Department of Education publication, “Teachers’ Ability to Use Data to Inform Instruction: Challenges and Supports”. It will introduce you to a set of knowledge and skills that all teachers should begin with when considering the role of data in their classrooms. It might be what comes first, but it will certainly not end there, as you will not be the last to benefit from your new literacy; your students will.

Randal Barrette, former 18-year, public high-school Spanish and World Cultures teacher in Maryland and Kentucky, current Instructor and CAEP Co-Coordinator for the College of Education at Morehead State University (KY) and Avant Professional Development Consultant.