Data can only tell you so much about how to plan instruction and deciding what data to triangulate (see previous post) depends upon the question you are asking. Forming a good question is at the root of using data to drive instruction. You have to ask the right question for the data to tell you what steps to take. For instance, we discussed two questions in Part 2: “How many students failed the state achievement test?” and “why did 10 students fail the state achievement test?”. If you are trying to determine the best instructional plan to improve student performance, the question “how many students failed the state achievement test?” isn’t going to provide much information or guidance. Asking the right question allows you to effectively use the data at your disposal.
The best questions usually arise from some qualitative data in the form of observations of student work or behavior or qualitative data in the form of assessment results. For instance, the question “why did 10 students fail the state achievement test?” is a result of the state achievement test data. Someone looked at it and said “we have to figure out why these kids failed”. This often happens organically in the classroom as well when teachers observe something happening and want to test it empirically. For example, maybe you notice that several students are struggling to sound out words and you want to know why. You can give a phonics assessment to determine if there are common phonemes that students are struggling with, or you can look at their benchmark data to determine if there are common themes in student errors. If you pair this with observations of students reading aloud, you can get a robust picture of where errors are occurring and how to fix them.