How Adopting Emerging Technologies Facilitates Learning, Simplifies Progress Monitoring, and Improves Student Outcomes
With the new school year underway, students across the country are returning to school in a variety of formats, including face-to-face, online virtual and hybrid models of instruction. Educational pedagogical terminology, such as “synchronous” and “asynchronous learning,” are becoming household words. Educators at all levels are making Herculean efforts to help students and families adjust to new learning environments, regardless of how small or drastic the shift may be.
As students, teachers, administrators and parents settle into the new routines of this school year, the focus will soon shift from implementing the new logistics of learning to assessing students and adjusting instruction and programming to have the greatest impact on student growth and achievement. In this shift, the ability to quickly access, analyze and evaluate assessment data—across assessment types and platforms—along with other forms of data, such as perception surveys, attendance and behavioral data, will be central to driving ongoing decisions on instruction, programming and interventions.
The Continuing Impact COVID-19 Will Have on Students this Fall
A recent study conducted in partnership between NWEA, Brown University and University of Virginia (EdWorkingPaper 20-226) projects that “Students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning 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. The learning gaps between individual students will be widened, based on a kaleidoscope of varying factors that intersect with one outcome: impact on student learning.
This projected impact is the result of district, county and statewide shutdowns during the winter/spring 2020, with schools attempting to move quickly to alternative learning formats, such as online instruction, self-directed homework packets, workbooks, phone help/tutoring, etc.—all delivered with varying levels of implementation and support, depending on each district’s unique circumstances as pandemic outbreaks began to increase.
Educators and families are doing their best to rapidly adopt new practices, learning platforms and environments, and many teachers are going above and beyond, attempting to service a diverse group of student needs as best as possible, given overwhelming circumstances. However, the pandemic has exposed existing inequities and areas of need in terms of access to technology, internet service providers, materials, systems, process, workflows, training and support. And yet, with everyone doing their best to make things work in an effort to maintain the health, well-being and safety of students, staff and families, student learning will be impacted by the diverse levels of support and quality of instructional support that students had while learning from home.
Overcoming the Challenge of Doing More with Less
Local districts and states across the country, such as Michigan, are mandating the administration of benchmark assessments to assess students as they return to school. National benchmark assessments, such as NWEA Measures of Achievement (MAP), Renaissance Learning STAR, Curriculum Associates I-READY, or Data Recognition Corporation’s Smarter Balanced Interim Assessments, provide nationally normed data and can be powerful tools to identify student needs and monitor student progress and growth. However, assessments are only powerful when the assessment data is analyzed and applied to drive classroom instruction, programming and interventions. Educators must use the assessment data to take action, for it to have any power. Otherwise, it’s just another test and just more data.
Compounding this challenge is that educators and administrators are now being tasked with doing even more in their daily routines, often with less (in terms of time, training, resources, budget and staff). So new realities create new challenges. New challenges command new solutions. And many aren’t equipped to find more time and more tools to achieve more compliance and reporting, creating an urgency for solution providers to make things easy, accessible and eminently adoptable…or it risks not getting done correctly…or worse, not getting done at all.
Why is Data-Driven Instruction More Important Than Ever?
In Paul Bambrick Santayo’s book, Driven by Data, he writes that schools need to change their focus from, “what was taught” to “what is learned.” The degree of learning with which students are returning to school this year varies so greatly due to the pandemic, which escalates the necessity of this shift in focus even further.
Bambrick-Santayo goes on to identify that there are four fundamental building blocks to data driven instruction: assessment, analysis, action and culture.
- Assessments must be standards-aligned, with varying levels of questions for depth of knowledge and understanding and provide data that not only informs instruction but helps to compare students with their peers.
- Analysis is the key to using the data to identify areas of student need so that action can be taken.
- Educators must understand how to apply the conclusions from their data analysis to take appropriate actions that have the greatest impact on instruction, programming and interventions.
- Finally, educational leaders must create a culture in which data-driven instruction will thrive. This includes providing and following an assessment calendar, providing time for deep data analysis and discussion, and encouraging/supporting educators in using the data to guide actions taken with student instruction, intervention and programming.
How to Optimally Get from Assessment to Action
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,” says Bambrick-Santayo.
According to Bambrick-Santayo, the first core driver of analysis includes “user-friendly reports.” Time is at a premium for teachers, coaches and administrators—there just simply isn’t the time nor resources available to build elaborate spreadsheets comparing data between students, classes, grade levels, buildings or different assessment platforms, and then try to teach teachers to analyze the data using these elaborate spreadsheets or reports from multiple assessment systems.
Furthermore, cleaning protocols, preparation for virtual learning classes, and the new logistics/daily routines of instruction have removed any “extra” time that was once nominally available (if it ever truly was). Additionally, the skill level at which teachers and administrators can analyze data varies as greatly as the instructional levels among students
Matching Need to Facilitate Adoption and Readdress Priorities
Educators need access to tools that help them 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.” They need tools that will help them to quickly disaggregate or aggregate student assessment data at the student, class, grade, building, or district level, by subject, standard, goal, or objective—all within three to five clicks, not three to five hours, meetings or weeks.
Ideally, such systems are dynamic and allow educators to change views rapidly in order to identify trends, gaps and areas of need. They should allow educators to filter different types of student data, including student achievement data, attendance data, behavior data, demographic data, and perception survey data, so that schools and districts are able to analyze the needs of the whole child.
And in a perfect world, all of this would live in one online platform (not multiple platforms with multiple logins that require manual analysis and massaging of data between platforms) so that they can be readily accessed from school or home, anytime-anywhere, to adapt to the changing needs of the school community—especially in anticipation of possible classroom, grade-level, pod, building or district closures—as COVID-19 cases and positive test rates, flu season rates, and weather/natural disasters are anticipated to fluctuate over the course of the school year.
Getting Back to…Normal?
The easier data analysis is, the more it allows time for educators to spend actualizing the data, drawing conclusions, identifying areas of need, and grouping students…then putting plans for targeted instruction and intervention into action. Educational leaders must also set aside time for deep and meaningful data analysis. This means programming time into the schedule and calendar on a regular basis, for deep and meaningful data analysis, discussion and planning for converting the results of the analysis into actionable steps.
It’s not that we don’t have enough access to data. It’s that educators should be able to easily convert that data into intelligence…and intelligence into action. And once that is made easy, educators and administrators can be focusing their time, energy, expertise and passion on what they do best: educating and developing today’s learners and maintaining exceptional learning environments—not keeping up spreadsheets, wrangling paperwork, and learning disparate, disconnected systems and platforms.
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@example.com or 248-416-4482. Learn more at munetrix.com.
Bambrick-Santayo, Paul. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction. Jossey-Bass, 2019.
Dorn, Emma, Bryan Hancock, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Ellen Virelug. (2020)., COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime. Retrieved from Fresno State University: https://fresnostate.edu/kremen/about/centers-projects/weltycenter/documents/COVID-19-and-student-learning-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf
Kuhfeld, Megan, James Soland, Beth Tarasawa, Angela Johnson, Erik Ruzek, and Jing Liu. (2020). Projecting the potential impacts of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement. (EdWorkingPaper: 20-226). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://doi.org/10.26300/cdrv-yw05