We want to track our students’ progress and growth – it’s the very heart of education. However, tracking progress effectively can be a challenge, especially when you’re managing tens or dozens of students.
Effective progress tracking happens when your data and your system work in harmony.
In other words, your student data (results) and your benchmarking (what these results compare to, eg individual improvement, position in class, classes performance against a greater area) need to be complementary.
This was discovered in a landmark study by researchers Fuchs and Fuchs (2002), which found that:
When teachers use systematic progress monitoring to track their students’ progress in reading, mathematics, or spelling, they are better able to identify students in need of additional or different instruction; they design stronger instructional programs, and their students achieve better results.
Reaching this harmony requires a trial and error, but we think we can help you with the latter. Here are four missteps to watch out for when tracking student data.
1. Not Having a System
Without a system, results are just numbers. But the reasons for not having one are all too familiar – it can seem complicated, implementing the data meaningfully takes time, and it’s hard to keep track of a whole class.
Solution: Start small. It can be tempting to map out a grand strategy, but little steps will lead to longer, confident strides. It also gives you the flexibility you need to develop a system that will work for you and your students.
2. Over-complicating Your System
Data is exciting – sometimes it’s too exciting. Over-complicated systems happen when we try to achieve a lot with limited data or use an abundance of data to try to and do something simple.
Solution: Know your goals. It might be students achieving subject mastery, individual growth, improved performances on yearly assessments, and so on.
Understanding your outcomes determines what data you need to gather and what kind of system will make that data meaningful.
3. Not Setting a Starting Point
You don’t know where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Setting a starting point establishes your baseline, and it’s important – it shows you when you’ve been successful or what you need to do next to reach success.
Solution: Assess current knowledge. Again, this can be simple; a test or quiz to show what your students understand so you can shape their future learning.
4. Forgetting Context
This one is two-fold.
First, when we get caught up in the data, sometimes we forget to look at the bigger picture. What’s going on with a particular student? Is there something that can explain the classroom’s lag in progress during a particular week? When you combine the power of data and the power of context, the results can be amazing.
Second, don’t forget to align your objectives with your bigger lesson goals. While progress is amazing in any area, we should always work towards a learning plan.
Solution(s): Context is crucial for student learning and while your data will leave you with a lot to consider, remember to align your goals and take in all the human elements of progress.
A good tracking system should be:
- Aligned with your teaching style
- Organised and simple
- Analysed and read within context
By setting up an effective system, you can determine what students are and aren’t getting from your lesson plans, when to slow down, when to speed up, when to re-teach, when to move on, when to celebrate, and when to ask yourself: What teacher action is causing these gaps/strengths? Which students need more individualised lessons? How can I differentiate learning in my class?
Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (2002). What is scientifically-based research on progress monitoring? (Technical report). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University