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Data Driven Decision Making

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Teaching incorporates many different skills including: communicating with others, classroom management, understanding content, instructional strategies and assessment. Some teaching skills develop easily while others take many years of work and study. Those who study teaching practice note that there is an art and science to what teachers do. Part of the science of teaching involves action in the on-going cycle of lesson planning, delivery of instruction, and assessment of learning. A teacher’s decisions and actions within this cycle are very important to student success in a given class. This online module looks at assessment and ways that teachers can monitor and support student learning using technology through data driven decision making.


  • Students will understand the purposes and uses of four different kinds of assessments.
  • Students will learn about websites that contain useful information about their school and students.
  • Students will learn about publisher resources that can aide and support teacher work.
  • Students will understand the potential uses of databases and spreadsheets to monitor and track student performance.
  • Students will understand the link between "school connectedness" and student achievement.




Go to Part 2- Common Assessment Tools Used in Education

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Part 2: Common Assessment Tools Used in Education

Without data, all you have is opinion.

-Dennis Fox

Teaching is a vocation of action. Educators interact with their students in an on-going cycle of lesson planning, delivery of instruction, and assessment of learning. Within this cycle teachers:

  • plan units to communicate skills and/or content knowledge
  • deliver lessons using strategies tailored to the needs of their students
  • assess student understanding of content

A teacher’s decisions and actions within this cycle are very important to student success in a given class. Assessment provides feedback related to the content received by the student. The student data an educator uses to take the next steps in forming lessons brings the cycle back to its starting point again of planning for the learner(s). This lesson initiates an exploration of assessment that is also know as data driven decision making.

There are a least four different kinds of assessments educators use in their work. These assessments help teachers understand students in different ways. Some offer general perspectives about a class and what students know and understand. Others share very specific information about individuals and what skills they possess. Each assessment offers clues to help us understand our students and better serve their learning needs. A "seasoned educator" uses each of the following assessments in some version or another.

Screening Tests
Screening tests are quick assessments. Their aim is to alert teachers to problems that students have in a specific area. Some educators have said that screening tests are like colanders: They are designed to separate those students who need additional testing from a larger group; in this way teachers are able to focus their time and resources most efficiently. Many screening tests are group assessments- types of tests that can be administered to a whole class or group.

Diagnostic Tests
Diagnostic tests are used to probe and evaluate student needs when problems have been detected. Diagnostic tests offer detailed information about an individual’s skills, knowledge or understanding in a given area of learning. Diagnostic tests are administered in both group and individualized formats. As a matter of practice, a screening test would first indicate the need for a diagnostic test; the diagnostic test would then pinpoint details for effective instructional planning to address a student’s need.

Progress-Monitoring Tests/Formative Assessments
Educators use progress-monitoring tests to see if their instruction is having the desired effect. Progress can be monitored through group tests, running records, anecdotal notes, or other observation formats. Progress-monitoring measures are general administered quickly and consistently on either a monthly, weekly or daily basis with very little classroom disruption. The frequency of assessment is determined through consideration of learner profile and content. Balance needs to be found between too much monitoring and not enough. Progress-monitoring data is crucial to the efficient and effective use of classroom time.

Outcome Tests/Summative Assessments
This type of test of considers the growth a student has made over an extended period of time in relation to their grade level content standards or course objectives. This type of test can yield data that compares a given class’ performance with a larger population of students at the state or national level. This type of test has limited value in making day-to-day instructional decisions. Outcome tests can be very useful as:

  • Data resources for planning at the beginning of the school year: what skills have students mastered, what skills do I need to spend more time with students on?
  • Screening measures used to look at groups and individuals in relation to a given content area (i.e. students with basic, below basic, and far below basic skills on the California STAR assessments warrant screening assessments at the very least and perhaps diagnostic tests).

Go to Part 3- Assessment Perspectives During the School Term

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Part 3: Assessment Perspectives During the School Term

...the effective design of activities for student learning is based on both an understanding of content and student needs.

It’s practical to begin thinking about data driven decision making through the lens of a given school term and considerations teachers make as the term progresses. This section of the module offers specific perspectives and examples of data driven decision making through the school term.

Beginning of the School Term
At the beginning of the school term, teachers organize curriculum looking at what’s ahead. They anticipate needs focusing on general questions about the class:

  • Who are the students entering my class?
  • Where are they in relation to the prerequisite skills for my grade/class?
  • What is their language proficiency?
  • What is their ethnicity and gender?
  • Who are students enrolled in special programs?
  • What are students’ family configurations and what kind of family support can I expect?
  • How can I insure a safe and organized learning environment for this group of students?

Answers to these questions can be obtained by looking at cumulative records, district benchmark exams and California STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) data. Technology can support educators at this point in time using the following web resources:



DataQuest allows public access to a wide array of information schools and districts report to the State of California each year. Among other things, DataQuest has student demographic information, STAR test information and English learner profiles.

Educational Results Partnership
Educational Results Partnership provides data charts based on publicly available information from the California Standards Test for Language Arts and Mathematics. It also helps schools benchmark their performance against the top ten performing schools in the state, region and county that have comparable student populations.

4-6 Weeks into the School Term
As the school term gets underway teachers obtain perspectives on their students’ content knowledge through various assessment tools. Some of these tools are can be formal assessments while others can be informal observation checklists. Through these tools teachers develop a refined knowledge of their students. They are able to validate assumptions taken from cumulative records, STAR assessments, and interviews with parents and former teachers. At this point in time teachers have a first hand view of their class; they are developing an understanding of their students strengths and weakness in relation to content standards and/or their course objectives. They are generally able to identify students and rank them according to their content knowledge and/or skills.

Identification of Students with Significant Learning Needs

During this initial period of instruction, it is critical that teachers identify students who have significant learning challenges. These needs may be understood as deficits which could impede or block mastery of standards/content objectives for the given grade or class. The educator asks questions about the etiology of these learning needs. Why are these students here? What common needs for students are indicated by the data? Teachers use screening tests and diagnostic tests during this phase of work. Examples of screening tests and diagnostic tests include:

San Diego Quick Reading Assessment


Third Grade Math Inventory

As teachers develop understanding about their students’ needs, they spend time thinking about instructional strategies and teaching methods that can help their students. Along with diagnostic and screening test results, teachers also recall their student demographic information. They focus on efficient and effective ways that they can accelerate learning and close achievement gaps. Considerations include:

  • curriculum organization
  • instructional time
  • instructional strategies
  • classroom organization
  • school expectations
  • family involvement
  • "safety nets"
  • special programs


Daily-Weekly-Monthly Throughout the Term
Teachers attend to their students needs using whole class, small group, and individualized strategies and other ideas from the bulleted list above. They select a progress monitoring scheme that matches the degree of student need; more frequent progress monitoring is needed for students with intensive needs. Curricula may be a combination of State adopted materials and supplemental learning resources. Educators evaluate curricula and their students’ response to learning plans. Pacing schedules are checked and adjusted considering the scope of learning to be attained in the school term. Effective designs are continued; ineffective lessons are adjusted and modified. Examples of progress monitoring assessments include:

AIMSweb® is a formative assessment system that ‘informs’ the teaching and learning process by providing continuous student performance data and reporting improvement to parents, teachers, and administrators to enable evidence-based evaluation and data-driven instruction.

Prentice Hall- Algebra Chapter Pre-Test
Prentice Hall’s math series includes a complete set of diagnostic and placement tests. The URL above references a chapter pre-test for the first unit in their algebra series.

End of Term Assessment
End of term assessments are the most common type of assessment currently found in K-16 schools. Teachers use end of term assessments also known as outcome or summative assessments to measure a student’s performance in relation to State standards and/or the course objectives. End of term assessments offer schools and teachers a means of evaluating their students learning for the term. They also offer useful data in planning for the new school term. Educators should be weary of using end of term assessments as their only means of evaluating their students and programs. (Some form of progress monitoring should be used so that educators can have data points in the school term to adjust and modify their pacing schedule if concepts are not "sinking in"- see the sub section above for more information.) Examples of end of term assessments:

9th Grade Math Practice Test
Practice questions designed for students who want to test their skills at the end of the ninth grade level; a compilation of the minimum requirements that students should know by the time they reach the end of 9th grade.

2nd Grade 2005 California Standards Test in English-Language Arts
Released test items from the 2nd Grade 2005 CST

6th-8th Grade 2005 California Standards Test in History/Social Studies
Released test items from the 6th-8th grade 2005 CST

4th Grade 2005 California Standards Test in Mathematics
Released test items from the 4th grade 2005 CST

Many of the ideas shared in this section are based on my learning from work with Cindy Tucker, John Schiller, Don Russell, Kevin Feldman, Doreen Heath-Lance, Joan Easterday and Jane Escobedo at the Sonoma County Office of Education. I have benefited from a collegial working relationship with these individuals and express my appreciation here.


Go to Part 4- Foundations for Student Achievement

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Part 4: Foundations for Student Achievement


Best Practices and Community Learning Groups

An area of interest and study at many schools focuses on "best practices." Best practice study can happen individually, through small learning community groups, or whole faculty gatherings where educators analyze student learning. For some this involves reading research articles or books published by education researchers. In other forms it can occur by watching videos, listening to audio recordings or related electronic materials published on the World Wide Web. The common thread found in these efforts is a recognition becoming an effective educator is a life-long task; teacher learning doesn't end when a state teaching credential arrives in the mail. One teacher summed up these actions in saying, "You don't have to be sick to get better. "

Dennis Fox of the Southern California Assessment Center finds that school learning teams focus on three types of data when studying their student performance in their schools:

  • Outcome Data
  • Demographic Data
  • Instructional Program Data

Here's a more detailed description of each:

Outcome Data-

  • describes how a student or group of students is doing at a particular point in time, and/or over time
  • communicate the degree to which a student or group of students has acquired specified knowledge and/or skills
  • are measurable

Examples of outcome data include: the California Standards Test, district benchmark exams, surveys, observations, a course's final exam , chapter tests, report cards, performances, and portfolios.

Online materials available for obtaining outcome data about your school/district:

California Standards Test Results

Educational Results Partnership

Demographic Data-

  • used help to understand students and their unique needs
  • provides vital information regarding students, their families, and community
  • identify factors that must be considered in instructional decision-making

Examples of demographic data include: language proficiency, ethnicity, parent education, gender, mobility, family support, discipline, family, special program participation.

Online materials available for obtaining demographic data about your students:

California English Language Development Test Results

Healthy Kids Survey

Instructional Program Data -

  • refer to variables over which the staff has some degree of control
  • help the staff make effective instructional decisions
  • include information related to school/district efforts to promote a high level of student achievement

Examples of instructional program data includes: curriculum organization, instructional time, instructional strategies, materials/equipment/supplies, budget, family, special programs, class assignments.

Online materials for obtaining instructional program data includes:

Listing of State Adopted Instructional Materials

Textbook Publisher Links


As learning communities develop understandings of their students through demographic data, they shape their instructional programs using instructional program data. Outcome data then reflects the application of instructional programs. Teachers have control of their instructional programs applying time, curriculum, expertise, special programs, budgets, and resources to meet the needs of their school's students.

In this process of examining data and responding to student needs, educators frequently wonder about other schools. Questions similar to the following are presented:

  • "How have other schools responded to these needs?"
  • "We surely aren't the first school looking at the issue of high numbers of English language learners...do we need to reinvent the wheel?"
  • "X School has at least 50% of their school's population receiving free and reduced lunches, I wonder what they did?"

Looking online their are a range of different materials to help schools network about best practices. Here's a sampling of best practice resources:

National Center for Educational Achievement Library

SCOE Instructional Strategy Videos with Anita Archer

All ThingsPLC


Go to Part 5- Databases and Spreadsheets

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Part 5: Databases and Spreadsheets






Databases and spreadsheets are invaluable resources helping teachers collect, organize and analyze information.


Databases and spreadsheets are powerful applications with great potential to help teachers monitor student progress through the school year. Common uses for these programs involve organizing, storing, calculating, sorting, and graphing student information.

A sample spreadsheet with student data from the beginning of a school year is shared below. The teacher is using this spreadsheet to organize student information to analyze needs and plan for instruction. The teacher is using the following scoring guide/rubric:

5= Exceeds grade-level standards.
4= Meets grade-level standards.
3= Close to meeting grade-level standards and will likely meet the standards with additional time and effort.
2= Making some progress towards meeting grade level standards and may meet the standards with additional time, effort, and minor accommodations in the instructional program.
1= Making very little progress towards meeting grade level standards and may meet the standards with substantial additional time, effort, and accommodations in the instructional program.


The spreadsheet program offers the teacher an easy method to sort information and look for patterns. In this case the teacher may sort information by name alphabetically , by gender, or by rubric score. A sort by rubric score is shown below:



The teacher in this example can collect further information to help guide her understanding of student needs. Information related to language proficiency (LEP) and economic need (F/R Lunch) have been added to the sample spreadsheet below. Along with being able sort information by name alphabetically , by gender, and by rubric score, the teacher can now also sort by language classification or by economic need.



Databases and spreadsheets frequently support graphing functions. Graphs offer more visual displays of information. Some think that patterns and needs can be more effectively seen with charts than by numeric tables. A bar chart is shown below with the sample student performance scores we have been examining:



Additional ideas and information concerning the use of spreadsheets to monitor progress can be found at the Sonoma County Office of Education website--their "Bulletins" offer information in a variety of areas- the Bulletin focusing on "Evidence- Making the Case for Data Driven Decision Making" has print, podcasts, and videos related to using spreadsheets to monitor STAR data, CELDT levels, and other formative assessments:

SCOE Bulletins

Please take time to look at the SCOE Bulletin about Evidence and the video on the CST: How to use Microsoft Excel’s auto filters to make data more accessible to teachers.

If you like the ideas listed above but your "spreadsheet" skills are just developing, consider Microsoft's How to Articles: Learn how to use Microsoft software in the classroom with tips and tricks to get you started quickly.

Microsoft's How-to Articles....


Online Databases

A number of schools and districts are beginning to use online databases to manage student learning information. Educators use these online databases to review student performance from many different perspectives including:

  • State and National Norms- how are our students doing in relation to others of similar age/grade in California or the United States? (State assessments are commonly administered once during the school year.)
  • Local Curriculum Benchmarks- how are students in a grade or subject progressing with reference to specific learning outcomes this year? (Benchmark progress is commonly examined 3-4 times during the school year.)
  • Teacher Tests- how are students in my class doing in relation to daily lessons and units I am teaching? (Teachers determine the frequency they monitor student performance at this level.)

Links to two examples of online databases are shared below. Each of these online databases has a virtual tour available if you wish to learn more.


Data Driven Classroom


Some of the ideas from this section come from Dennis Fox. Further information about Dennis Fox and his ideas can be found at the following link: http://www.classroomdata.org


Go to Part 6- Web Resources

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Part 6: Web Resources









Data Driven Organizations- What do they look Like?

Using Classroom Data to Improve Student Achievement

Ed Data

California Department of Education- STAR


Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS)
The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of standardized, individually administered measures of early literacy development. They are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading skills.

California High School Exit Exam for Mathematics & Support Resources
A mathematics study guide for the CAHSEE




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