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Making the Shift: Basing Teaching and Learning in Data

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June 27th, 2019

Like many districts, we are not lacking when it comes to student data. We have universal screening data, diagnostic data, interim/benchmark data, formative assessment data, standardized state assessment data, and the list goes on and on. All of the data we collect are important and valuable when it comes to supporting the success of the students we service. We collect these data with a purpose of measuring, monitoring, and reporting student progress on achievement of grade level standards.

However, in the midst of all of this actionable data was confusion. Confusion with the purpose of the assessments we give. Confusion with terminology. Confusion with appropriate and inappropriate uses of the different types of data we collect. Confusion with how to look at multiple pieces of data and base instructional decisions on those data.

We, as a district, were what some have referred to as “data rich, information poor.” We had multiple data measures on the students we desired to support, but would sometimes become lost in the overwhelming question of “I have data, now what?”

We needed to develop a simplified, clear process—an action plan—of how to collect student data, analyze those data, and then put that analysis into action within classroom instruction to support student success. We needed an action plan that equipped our teachers and administrators with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively and appropriately use the data we had always been collecting.

The first step in this process was to develop a clear philosophy and purpose for the use of assessments in our district. We, as a district, believe that assessment serves as a way to measure, monitor, and report student progress on achievement of grade level standards. Assessment provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate, apply, and reflect on their development as learners. Assessment is a way to communicate strengths as well as areas for improvement to all stakeholders.

Once that philosophy and purpose was established, a comprehensive district-wide assessment plan was created to ensure all stakeholders were aligned, informed, and moving in the same direction. We wanted to ensure our stakeholders understood the purpose of assessment, and how to use the data collected to measure, monitor and report student success.  

The comprehensive district-wide assessment plan is a working, breathing document, with the intent of adjusting and shifting, based on the needs of our students and the stakeholders supporting those students. Included in the assessment plan is a detailed description of the types of assessments given throughout the year, the purpose and appropriate use of the data collected from these assessments, and how these data are used by different levels of stakeholders, including teachers, support staff, administrators, and parents.  Also included is how the assessments administered in our district fit into the districts’ MTSS framework and supports students at all levels of achievement: those struggling, those on target, and those exceeding grade level standards.

With a clear direction and purpose regarding assessments in place, we needed a central location for student assessment data to be stored, simplifying the overwhelming process of collecting data. Through the use of the Illuminate Data and Assessment (DnA) platform, we developed that central data storage location. Collecting the majority of all student assessment data in one easily accessibly location has drastically reduced the amount of time spent by teachers, interventionist teams, and administration searching for data in different platforms, paper file folders, or digital spreadsheets. It made for easier access of data by classroom, building, and district to identify plans of action as far as instruction and/or intervention.

This central location of data has allowed staff the time to dig deeper into the data because they were not spending a large amount of time digging to find the data. Viewing the “whole child” by looking at multiple pieces of data has become a much easier task.

With this easily accessible data platform, we, as leaders, wanted to ensure that we supported educators in the process of moving forward with the data collected. Data discussion norms were established that focused conversations around instruction, collaboration, problem solving, and creating action plans for moving forward. Data analysis questions were developed based on specific assessments or reports that were available within Illuminate to support teachers when reflecting over assessment data and to keep them focused on the norms established.

We are continually improving this comprehensive assessment plan process and working to increase the capacity within our educators and leaders to analyze student data and use them to effectively make instructional decisions. As we move forward, we continue to work on staff buy-in and adjusting the plan to fit the needs of the students in our district, as well as all the stakeholders who support those students.

This article was originally published in Volume 1, Issue 10 of Under the Umbrella, a United School Administrators of Kansas publication, and re-published here with permission.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

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