One of the many duties teachers have is to collect and interpret student information. This takes multiple forms, including assessments of students’ wellbeing, outcomes on standardized tests, and participation during class activities.

Using these and other classroom moments as models for improving student engagement and academic performance affects not only how teachers choose content for their lessons, but how they adjust their instruction methods as well.

The following are some types of data that teachers can use to solve classroom problems, plan future lessons, and help students meet academic goals:

Formative data

Edutopia’s consulting editor, Rebecca Alber, suggests that formative assessment contains some of the most valuable data teachers can use. Short quizzes, question-and-answer sessions, and feedback activities like Exit Slips help give teachers day-to-day information on students’ learning progress and how focused they are on assignments.

As opposed to more ad-hoc assessments of student performance, formative data gives teachers a firmer grasp on a class’s general comprehension level at any given moment, and thus when to transition during instruction.

Using advanced artificial intelligence has even helped teachers gain a better grasp on the day-to-day learning difficulties students are encountering. By tracking and studying student engagement and thought processes, teachers can use AI to spend more time on lesson planning and less on grading.

Observational data

This type of data comes from teachers observing students during in-class activities. In certain contexts, teachers can participate with small groups and advise from the sidelines instead of lecturing.

Direct observation allows teachers to gather information on individual students to identify how well each understands the topic and whether they’re effectively interacting with peers. This informal data allows teachers to adjust the pace of the class or give extra attention to struggling students.

It may prove difficult to gather observational data depending on the type of class and activities. For more objective observational data, invite a fellow educator with experience providing observational feedback to observe your class. This is especially useful for teachers who need to get through a lot of instruction or for lessons involving group work.

Summative data

While no one test score or analytical essay accurately summarizes the learning progress of a given student, taking a look at standardized test scores and project grades is helpful for a lot of reasons.

Coupled with observational and in-class assignment feedback, this type of summative data can help show where students’ academic strengths and weaknesses lie over longer periods of time.

Here are a few suggestions for how to use data from standardized tests in the classroom:

– Individually share test results with students. Help them make sense of the results by setting realistic goals and a plan to help them improve their score for next time.

 Use the data to group students together for differentiated instruction. For example, most standardized tests will rank student scores at below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced comprehension levels. These outcomes—as well as other information about individual students—can help teachers group students according to different learning profiles and goals.

 Look at student performance on national and global levels. As 2002 Maryland State Teacher of the Year Linda Eberhart says, standardized tests allow teachers and other educators to consider the biggest gaps in student knowledge and address them before classes even start.

Student files

While not technically from the classroom, reading over student files can offer a lot of insight for teachers. You can identify the precise period when a student did well or poorly on a test or project and see whether any events outside the classroom corresponded with the grades.

Even more, you can see academic and behavioral trends firsthand and bring up any concerns you have with the student. If they’ve earned lower-than-usual grades lately, for example, you may learn that their parents divorced, they had a community group taking up most of their time, or simply that they moved into a new house.

Being able to identify the external factors in student life that may classroom performance helps teachers empathize and establish trust with students.

Student-reported data

Designing activities that put students in the role of self-evaluators is a great way for teachers to gain insight into how students think about themselves.

Below are some activities to get students thinking about how they learn and how much they understand about a topic:

– Get students to write brief entries in a journal about their learning progress. You can use prompts like “I want to learn…”, “Something interesting I learned today was…”, or “Sometimes I have difficulty with…”.

– Have students use a personal chart that they can sign when they think they’ve mastered a certain concept or problem. Start this activity with small assignments that students can use for practice, then challenge them with bigger problems they can feel proud to put their names by.

– Write down students’ questions about a topic on the board, and then address any relevant questions whenever you introduce a new concept.

– Set aside a digital or physical space where students can write comments and ask questions about the topic at hand. Elementary school students might prefer a large sheet of paper to collectively write on, while students in middle school or higher may prefer a blog or class website. Consider making this activity private and/or anonymous, as well.

Techniques for assessing student work

It’s often hard for teachers to get a good sense of what’s helping specific students learn during class until weeks have already passed.

To address this issue, the Stanford University Teaching Commons has posted some tips for using anonymous assignments to get an early handle on where students are struggling:

– Documented problem-solving: Ask students to solve a problem for homework and to write down, step by step, their thoughts during each stage of the problem-solving process. Reading through student descriptions of their own work helps teachers identify what they should devote more class time to.

– Tracking time spent learning: Describe an upcoming assignment and ask students to estimate how much time they think they would take to complete it, and then have them monitor themselves while finishing it. Afterward, ask students to write a reflection of their process and the results. Reading these reflections gives teachers a sense of how well students use their time and insight into how different students are processing the same information.

– One-minute papers: End class a few minutes earlier to ask a question or two that students should answer on looseleaf paper and submit. Make sure the questions are similar to, “What were the main points of today’s class?” or “What conclusion or example would you like reviewed or clarified?” For the next class, teachers can address the issues students write about.

Teachers want to do the best for their students, and without data it’s extraordinarily difficult to know how students are performing and how to adjust classroom activities to meet students’ varying needs.

By thoughtfully using the variety of data sources available, however, teachers can identify the big trends for success in the classroom and what individual students need to improve.