Data-Driven Decision Making
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 holds states, districts and schools accountable for student achievement. NCLB requires regular assessments to mark progress and highlight weaknesses in core academic subjects. These assessment results must be reported in the aggregate as well as disaggregated by individual subgroups of students (low-income or disability status, race or ethnicity).
Districts can use information provided from state and local assessments to determine specific needs in their schools and to strategically target resources.
Schools can use information from state and local assessments to identify areas in which teachers need support or additional training and help to meet the needs of all subgroups of students.
Teachers can use information from assessments required under No Child Left Behind to make informed decisions and provide the best possible instruction for student learning.
Parents have access to regular school, district and state report cards so they can monitor progress and make informed decisions.
Effective teachers use data to make informed decisions and are constantly improving classroom practice to better serve their students. One of the most important aspects of good teaching, as most teachers know, is the ability to discern which students are learning and which are not, and then to tailor instruction to meet individual learning needs.
Research shows that teachers who use student test performance to guide and improve their teaching are more effective than teachers who do not use such information. For example, researchers have found that achievement in math accelerated for low-performing students when teachers received weekly summaries and performance graphs of their students' performance.24
Although testing is an important part of measuring progress, how teachers use the resulting data from test results to drive instruction is critical. Teachers have the opportunity to use data from assessments to make good decisions when adapting instruction, evaluating progress, highlighting successes and improving weaknesses.
Using Standardized Assessments
Standardized assessments are professionally developed tests administered under standard conditions, producing scores that can be used to evaluate programs or children. The type of standardized tests required by No Child Left Behind is designed to determine whether children within a state are meeting the state standards of learning for their grade and subject. These assessments start with decisions at the state level about what a fourth-grader, for example, should know and be able to do in math by the end of the fourth grade. Next, questions are developed that are aligned with these standards. After children take the test and it is scored, a report is generated that indicates not only whether the child scored well enough to meet the state standard but also how well the child performed in each area of math tested. Score reports also indicate how children within each tested grade in each school performed, how districts performed and how children across the state performed. NCLB requires that scores for schools, districts, and states be disaggregated so that the performance of children from different subgroups can be examined. Standardized tests aligned with state standards are essential for administrators to determine whether schools are meeting their goals under NCLB.
An eighth-grade math teacher collects and records the scores his entering students received at the end of seventh grade on the math section of the state assessment. By studying these results, he is able to identify children who may need extra help with certain objectives. He records the same students' scores at the end of the eighth-grade school year, analyzing skills tested and objectives mastered. By comparing the two sets of scores, the teacher can see which students he had the most success with. He also compares the end-of-the-year average score for his whole class with the scores for all the eighth-grade students in his school, in his district and across the state.
Using Dynamic Assessments
Dynamic assessments are embedded in ongoing instruction in the classroom. Teachers assess individual students according to their instructional goals during teaching and learning interactions. Teachers conduct these assessments frequently and keep a systematic record of how individual children perform. They use this information to tailor and shape instruction to the needs of children in the class, as well as to measure their progress against instructional goals.
A first-grade teacher has created a short performance checklist keyed to the reading skills her students are expected to master during a 6-week marking period. While children take turns reading aloud in a small group reading lesson, the teacher notes on each child's performance checklist which skills have been mastered, which are progressing and which need improvement. Later in the day, the teacher reviews each student's performance checklist. She is able to plan future lessons and target instruction to the specific needs of individual children.
Using Screening Assessments
Screening assessments are given to all children at the beginning of the class or school year. The purpose is to identify children who may have difficulties in a subject area. These difficulties need to be addressed if the children are going to succeed. Screening tests are short and involve questions that probe for the presence of basic skills and abilities.
A fourth-grade teacher always begins the year by meeting with each student individually and having the students read aloud for a minute from a page of a book they will read later in the year. She performs an individual reading analysis, focusing on each student's fluency and decoding abilities. She carefully notes how many words each student reads per minute, his or her accuracy and whether or not the student reads with expression. She knows that those who struggle in this exercise are likely to be struggling readers who are not ready for the academic tasks of their peers. She works with them over the first few weeks of class to increase their skills.