Lately, there has been a lot of banter about the collection of student progress data in the classroom. Some see it as a valuable use of available technology to track student progress while others contend that relying on data dehumanizes the learning process and crosses many ethical lines.
Let's be honest. Both student progress data proponents and critics have valid points. However, it is clear that student data is only valuable when utlizied to improve student outcomes. In order to meet the student's learning needs, it is paramount that the data is well-conceived and, more importantly, actionable.
What is actionable student progress data?
Simply put, the goal of an educator is to help students meet learning needs, and actionable student progress data is any information (positive or negatieve that can be of almost-immediate assistance in reaching that goal.
For example, let’s say your class is learning about scientific notation via an online learning activity and you’d like to identify which of your students may need additional reinforcement. The activity's progress reports identify a group of five students who struggled a bit with the concepts. This information, specifically the identification of the five students and the specific areas they struggled on, are your actionable data pieces.
But as you noticed, “action” is the root word of actionable. That means that you must be able to act quickly and confidently, using the valuable data as resource, to prescribe the next step for your students.
Why must student progress data be actionable?
Now that you have an idea of what actionable data is and what you need to do to ensure it is “actionable”, let’s take a look at five reasons why making the distinction between “just data” and actionable data is so important:
1) An abundance of data does not mean an abundance of results
Measuring growth and predicting future success of your students can often become complicated by an overabundance of complex/useless data. As an educator, seek simple and clear results and information that you can easily leverage to improve achievement.
2) Actionable data is not just for student progress
As we know, reflection is an invaluable piece of becoming a better educator. In fact, I believe the very best teachers are often self-evaluators who can recognize when their individual performance is not up-to-par. Actionable data helps educators reflect on their own efforts and how those efforts assisted in student progress.
3) Data should provide more than just an early warning
While it is valuable to know when a student is slipping and in danger of falling behind, it is far more valuable to head struggles off at the pass with the help of data and observations. Actionable data helps educators be premptive and to maintain progress.
4) Always address concerns of students and parents
Not everyone is happy about the digital collection of student data. Being able to show all stakeholders the link between actionable student and academic achievement will go a long way toward allaying these concerns. Essentially, when used correctly, student data is a powerful tool for both accountability and transparency.
5) “Big Data” does not necessarily equal good data
Sometimes, one to two valuable data points can tell you a lot more about how to help a student than 20 useless data points can. It may take a decade to match data points of high school freshmen with those who successfully graduate from college in four years (as seen in this report). That example may yield significant and profound results, but it does not help the here and now for your students. Find the pieces that allow you to turn personalized instruction on a dime to do what is right by your students!
While cloud-based student data tools are becoming more prevalent in classrooms across the nation, the purpose of its educators remain unchanged. Gathering and effectively using actionable student progress data is the best way to leverage the power of these technologies to give your students the best chance for success.