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Beyond Remediation: The Power of Data-Driven Interventions in Education

Walking into many elementary and middle school libraries today, it is not uncommon to see books organized by letters, a sequence of numbers, or a color code. Teachers encourage students to “choose a book at their level!” and in theory, this is a good thing — you are more likely to repeat an activity if you succeed at it. 

Historically, when determining a student’s educational level, teachers and districts use some kind of adaptive test, from teacher-given reading level determinants to adaptive computer-based testing like NWEA MAP. Once identified, students are often kept in a level until they achieve mastery. Sometimes, this looks like a remediation block or part of a class.

But too often, especially at the middle and high school levels, it means keeping students in lower-level Tier 1 classes. As a result of one or two tests, students are placed on education pathways that are not academically rigorous or challenging enough. As a result, students may miss exposure to grade-level material, fail to engage in and build the muscle of productive struggle, and become overly reliant on teacher-created scaffolds and modifications. 

As educators, we want the best for students, and that includes graduating college- and career-ready. How do we ensure students are getting the most appropriately rigorous, high-quality education possible every class period? 

One solution lies in using data to drive instructional decision-making for students. Instead of sticking to a fixed level, educators can leverage data to tailor interventions that address individual learning needs. This process requires minimal additional work to start and maintain, is research-based and highly effective, and can be started today. Here’s a step-by-step guide to implementing effective data-driven interventions in your classroom now. 

  1. Pre-assess knowledgeWe want to start from a place of strength with students, knowing what they already know and where we need to be aware of gaps in knowledge. The best way to do this is to pre-assess the knowledge students have about the topic, skill, or standard. This can look like a few short questions on a passage, an open response about a topic, or tools like Liftoff Adaptive Intervention or the standards modules from Progress Learning. Questions to ask yourself as you seek out or build pre-assessments are:
    1. What do students have to know and do to be successful on this topic, skill, or standard?
    2. What will mastery look like? 
    3. What are the supporting topics, skills, and standards? 
  1. Identify strengths and gaps – Once the pre-assessment is done (and we stress, pre-assessments can be short), it’s important to analyze the data to identify strengths and specific gaps in understanding. Some questions to ask as you are looking at data:
    1. Who already deeply understands/can do this topic, skill, or standard? 
    2. Who is approaching deep understanding or mastery?
    3. Who is far from mastery?
    4. What are the big gaps in understanding? Are these skill gaps or knowledge gaps? 
  1. Use data to employ scaffolding – Use data reporting and analysis to plan for scaffolds in Tier 1 instruction. Scaffolds could look like teacher or student exemplars, pre-planned questions to help address student misconceptions, visual or auditory aids, mnemonic devices, or organizers. 
  1. Assign interventions specific to student needs – Based on identified gaps from the pre-assessment, assign targeted assignments that focus on reinforcing areas where students need improvement, getting as granular as possible. We can’t get a student to jump their reading level years ahead in one unit, but we can work with them to more effectively understand how to read multiple times with purpose or determine which text evidence best supports their reasoning with targeted interventions that encourage independent thinking and problem-solving. 
  1. Reassess – After students have engaged in assignments, scaffolds, and interventions, reassess their work to measure progress. Did the graphic organizer help, or did they spend all their time copying what you wrote on the board? After the intervention, were students more able to multiply whole numbers? Most importantly, did it change the student’s ability to access grade-level material? This step is critical — it lets us as educators know the effectiveness of our interventions! 

Throughout the process, keep these things in mind: 

  • Continuously use data – Doing this cycle once a semester, quarter, or unit is better than not at all. The more we use a cycle of data to improve the decisions we make about students, the more skillful we will get at using interventions and scaffolds effectively, and the faster our students will rise to more complex and grade-appropriate challenges. 
  • Avoid assumptions – Studies continue to show us that students can do much more challenging work than they are typically given. The most common response to giving students grade-level work that we see is, “It was definitely a challenge, but I was surprised by how many students rose to it!” Many of our decisions in life are grounded in data, and instructional decisions for students should be grounded in quantitative and qualitative review. 

There unfortunately are very few shortcuts to interventions that work in the classroom, especially for students far behind grade level. While there is no magic wand to wave, using data to drive interventions and checking that data frequently is the closest thing we have to a fail-safe way to structure interventions for students. Once you set up a system that works for you and your students, it is relatively easy to maintain — and well worth the results.

One system that has worked for thousands of teachers across the country? Liftoff from Progress Learning. Our award-winning adaptive intervention tool includes assessments, data analysis tools, and interventions that are perfectly tailored to each student’s needs. Get your free demo with us today!

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