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Another Voice: Teachers working hard to make proper use of data

By Theresa L. Gray

There’s a fairly widely held belief that data has no meaning. Without context, without identifying themes, without posing questions and certainly without additional data it is just numbers or position points. This has certainly been the case with assessment data. While some may be debating the value of data, teachers who are the primary users, consumers and interpreters of assessment data are working hard to understand it and turn it into something valuable.

The New York State Education Department recently released approximately 50 percent of the questions used on the 2014 Grades 3-8 assessments in English and math, as well as instructional reports that show which standards students were successful at and which areas need more emphasis. While it’s a great step forward, the release of the questions, which illustrates how student performance is assessed against the Common Core Learning Standards, is only part of the picture about student learning.

How can we make good use of the test questions and accompanying data? By asking questions, noting themes, considering context and using additional data. As teachers all across the state head back into the classroom, the analysis of data and the released annotated questions are critical steps in developing curriculum and instructional plans for next year.

Identifying areas of strength as well as standards where growth needs to occur allows teachers to consider what worked and build on those strategies to support all students. Teachers use assessment information along with student work gathered throughout the year to provide a comprehensive picture of learning.

The release of questions also provides a resource that can be used by teachers to promote discussion and critical thinking.

Finally, when reviewing school data and the annotated questions to identify focus standards, it’s important to reference the Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs), which were developed with committees of New York State classroom teachers. PLDs describe the range of knowledge and skills that students should demonstrate at a given performance level and enable teachers to create action plans for groups of students and develop ways to measure their progress in the classroom. PLDs are also useful to communicate to both students and parents the expectations of the Common Core Learning Standards and to help students set their own targets for learning.

The released questions and data are a starting point for educator inquiry around student learning and progress towards college and career readiness. Along with other tools, especially the experience of great teachers, they can be used to create a picture of where student are and help educators develop a learning plan to help these students get to where they need to go.

Theresa L. Gray is coordinator of integrated education services for Erie 2 – Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.