Drowning in Data? Progress Learning Can Help!

This guest blog was written by Ashlee Vice, educator and Progress Learning Ambassador. Ashlee is an elementary school teacher in Georgia, certified in ECE and K-6 education and holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She is passionate about making improvements in education and using data to make informed decisions that allow her to meet the needs of her students and empower them to achieve standards mastery and academic success. She wrote this blog to discuss how data is instrumental in driving quality instruction and describes how Progress Learning has provided her with unmatched content, tools, and support as an educator.

Drowning in Data

Teachers use a constant influx of assessment results to drive instruction, but is that data sabotaging teaching? Using data to drive instruction is critical for ensuring that students receive the highest quality learning experiences that meet their needs. There are a few ways that data may be hindering student and teacher performance.

Imprecise Assessments

Each grade level has its own set of goals for students to master over the course of the year which will later become prior knowledge needed in future years for students to be successful. Assessments need to be precise in measuring accurate grade level standards in the right way. Data can become inaccurate if it is not aligned to the goals that a teacher chose to target during instruction or if an assessment measures a student’s understanding in a different way from which they practiced during instruction. As teachers write learning objectives and carefully consider verb usage, it is important to ensure the assessment verbiage is aligned for monitoring student progress as a means to reflect on previous instruction and drive future instruction.

Outdated Content, Resources, and Assessments

Standards are frequently changing to reflect the needs of learners and the impact of vertical alignment; therefore, assessments can become outdated thus resulting in inaccurate data. Saved resources that have been collected throughout years of a teacher’s experience may become a hindrance to progress as updates are made. The same can be stated in regards to the way in which information is presented and how students interact with the content material. Teachers should avoid doing things “the way they have always been done” and adopt a more fluid approach to academic content, resources, instruction, and assessments to make sure student performance is aligned in all areas to grade level standards and beyond.

Inflexible Curriculum

With grade level goals in mind, teachers have to adhere to a curriculum pacing guide to ensure enough time is allocated to all standards throughout the year, which may put time constraints around a teacher’s ability to cover information in depth and/or to remediate and reteach. Inflexible curriculum leads to knowledge being absorbed by students as it passes from a teacher sharing it rather than a successful transference of understanding. Assessment results may reflect this occurrence without providing clear areas for support or identifying areas for remediation. Teachers may also be faced with the issue of addressing individual concerns while balancing the needs of the entire class with a lack of data clearly connecting the students to their level of mastery.


Successful progress monitoring requires multiple checkpoints to identify if students are grasping concepts as they build in complexity. Pre-test and post-test data analysis is a great way to evaluate if students were successful in gaining knowledge and if a teacher was successful in scaffolding that knowledge. However, check-ins between the pre- and post-test will benefit both the student and the teacher by determining the depth to which students are understanding the information and quickly catch any need for remediation and/or reteaching while the unit of study is still in progress. Teachers need to make sure that needs are identified early so that all grade level goals can be achieved as established by the curriculum pacing guide.

Limited or Inaccurate Inferences

Is a multiple choice test the best way to assess mastery? Were the students taught in a multiple choice format? Did they practice questions worded the same way as the assessment? A student that received a grade that demonstrates mastery may simply be proficient at guessing while a student that failed may have second-guessed every choice or did not comprehend the way the question was worded due to lack of familiarity with the verbiage. Teachers would be unable to accurately weigh and utilize this information when there could be a multitude of variables impacting the results. It’s best to avoid these potential variables to ensure validity of the data being used to drive instruction.

Varied student response questions would mitigate the issues of limited and inaccurate inferences by helping teachers pinpoint where a student’s strengths and weaknesses truly lie. Teachers can also identify preferred learning styles through in-depth evaluation of the results to see if students are working on a lower thinking level of rote memorization or if they have reached the higher level of application.

Student “Level of Understanding”

Every student learns at their own pace and in their own way based on prior knowledge and experiences. Individual levels of understanding should be taken into consideration when collecting data. Standardized tests and normalized scores are valuable in the grand scheme of things to make sure students are on track with their peers. However, teachers cannot expect to standardize their teaching when students are not standardized learners. To that end, teachers must vary the learning experiences in the classroom and thus vary the assessments used to collect accurate information regarding student progress and to monitor growth in preparation of grade level goal mastery achievement. It’s also beneficial to vary the depth of knowledge (DOK) level of questions students are asked on their assessments to capture the full scope of their understanding.

Too Much Data

How many assignments do you grade per week? Multiply that by the number of instructional weeks in the school year. How many district and state mandated tests do your students complete over the course of a year? Add it to the previous total. The result… too much data to extrapolate and utilize to drive high-quality instruction. 

Data overload can lead to a feeling of not knowing where to start or how to use the information effectively. Teachers who relate to these sentiments can begin to feel burnt out as their best effort is put forth, and it seems that little to no headway is being made when it comes to seeing positive student growth. Integrated data systems that compile the information on singular, streamlined reports help teachers to effectively analyze student growth and mastery in one place while filtering their scope to short- and long-term impacts to reflect and better drive instruction.

Difficulty Extracting Meaningful Information

After a teacher receives a student’s overall score, now what? If the whole class passes a test, it’s easy to assume the lesson was a success and students mastered it. However, the validity of the assessment may be flawed in the lack of higher DOK questions and/or asking leading questions that hint to the answer. Perhaps the assessment didn’t offer varied student responses and the process of elimination was the overarching achievement reflected in the high scores. What if the opposite was true and the whole class failed? Does the teacher adjust the grades on an established curve since it was clearly too difficult? Does the teacher reflect on the instruction as compared to the types of questions students were asked? Does the teacher find time in the curriculum pacing guide to remediate and/or reteach? 

All of these issues can be avoided through analyzing exactly where things went right in the case of every student passing and where things went wrong in the case of every student failing. Clear reports that break down the performance of student responses will help teachers identify individual students needing additional support and gauge the climate of achievement throughout the entire class. Student strengths and weaknesses should be observed per standard, related skill (thinking back to the objective verbiage being assessed), and DOK level to ensure the data is used to effectively drive instruction. 

How Progress Learning Can Help Teachers Avoid These Data Pitfalls

Progress Learning’s resource and question database is directly aligned to state standards and assessments to ensure precision while remaining fluid in updating content accordingly. Teachers are also given full control over creating and providing curriculum content that suits the needs of their students through assignment and assessment builder tools. Progress monitoring can occur near instantaneously as teachers see a need arise while providing instruction to gauge student understanding in real time through Progress Learning’s extensive library of standards-aligned instructional resources and questions. Upon completion of activities and/or assessments, teachers can analyze reports that are easily filtered to break down student performance per standard, question, and DOK level in order to draw accurate inferences. Furthermore, Progress Learning and NWEA are synced in an integrated report for teachers to easily connect valuable data to instructional content and progress monitoring. Assignments and assessments can be varied to meet student needs while providing a variety of student response options that target individualized levels of understanding per content domain. Students can also work through activities in Liftoff which utilizes the synced information from NWEA to remediate standards that students demonstrated deficiencies from previous grade levels while working to reach current grade level mastery. 

It’s time to stop drowning in data and let Progress Learning support teachers as they unlock the full potential of students on their journey toward mastery.

Learn more today by requesting a demo with Progress Learning.

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