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Making Use of Student Performance Data

Making Use of Student Performance Data

Student ownership is the key

by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven

Data is the key word in almost any discussion of student achievement. There is so much emphasis on data and test scores that teachers, students and parents can easily come to hate even hearing the word. But data itself is not the villain. It’s all about how you use it.

Data is not just about test performance: it’s about student skills. This is an obvious statement, but it’s frequently overlooked. If students improve their skills, they are going to improve their test scores. Research shows that students need to become active participants in data analysis1. They should analyze their data and use the information to take ownership of their own progress. Data can be a tool for setting personal goals that are measurable and relevant, and that encourage students to develop a sense of personal ownership. Robert Marzano in his article The Art and Science of Teaching / When Students Track Their Progress found a 32 percent gain in achievement when students consistently tracked their own progress.

The Plan’s the Thing

The important step is to come up with a plan. Experts recommend that data-driven planning focus on mastery and growth, but details of the plan will vary from school to school and student to student. School protocols sometimes mandate how teachers can use data. They might focus on performance rather than mastery because the school requires performance-based evaluations. In some school environments students will respond to this type of evaluation. Students will usually care about grades and that should be encouraged, but grades should not be the only data point.

Making Use of Performance Data

If your school requires grade posting or student comparison, make the best of it by focusing on growth rather than just grades. If exam scores are presented in terms of growth, students can make a positive connection with their improvement. A low-scoring student can improve more than a high-scoring one. If a student hasn’t improved, focus on the improvement plan rather than the negatives.


Many schools get better results with a mastery orientation to data analysis. Mastery orientation is less discouraging and helps students feel invested in making progress. In the article Are We Motivating Students with Data?,2 the authors explain that teachers can promote mastery orientation when they make students responsible for developing their own specific goals for individual improvement. Make sure they understand their data, assign tasks that are interesting, and provide a simple data analysis system for setting short-term goals.

Here are some key elements of mastery-oriented practice.

  • Convince students that data analysis enhances learning by identifying weaknesses and developing strategies to close learning gaps.
  • Emphasize growth. Help students understand the relationship between effort and progress.
  • Discuss growth performance with students in individual conferences.
  • Encourage students by commending positive results.
  • Develop a system for shared participation in setting goals and evaluating results.
  • Collaborate with students on a system to track growth through graphs or other methods.
  • Focus on the process: you want to show consistent growth and improvement, but progress doesn’t always show up in short periods.

Making Use of Performance Data 2

It’s not enough just to show them their data– you have to get them involved in analyzing it. Results displayed by the teacher don’t motivate students, especially if you don’t give direction on how to improve performance. You can do a simple exercise to start. If you are using an integrated learning system or an assignment, have students pick an article that was particularly challenging and write a short paragraph about what they found difficult. Do this exercise once a month, or more frequently. Make this a required and graded assignment so that students take it seriously.

Putting it in Practice

Now let’s look at how you can combine these approaches with a particular learning system, Achieve 3000. Your goal is to complete 2 activities per week at 75% correct or more in order to show significant gains in Lexiles, the standard numeric representation of reading level. Meeting this goal is not just about quantity. Doing 5 activities per week with a score of 55% won’t improve performance as much as fewer activities with a higher score. You should meet with students who are underperforming and come up with a plan for improvement. Try to get them to tell you what they need to do. Do they need to pay more attention to vocabulary? Are they not looking up words? Are they not reading actively, or are they distracted and thinking about lunch when they are reading? Are they listening to music while studying? Experts disagree on whether music benefits students.3 However, if a student is performing poorly you might have her do a passage without music and one with and compare the results. In college and during standardized tests there will be situations where they won’t be allowed to listen to music, so it’s best to experience the sound of silence in advance.

With Achieve, you can mix emphases on grades and Lexile tracking. Students will see more performance improvement if they track their own Lexile progress. They can follow their progress on the home page of the program by clicking on “Lexile tracker” at the top of the page. They will see a graph based on their initial Lexile Level Set test. The line graph tracks their monthly growth and shows the diminishing distance to their year-end goal. The graph shows several growth patterns that track student achievement. The top line tracks the student’s actual growth based on activity performance and initial level set. In “My Growth Plan” students can see what Lexile level they can achieve if they continue on their current path. Students can click on any data point and see what activities they have completed and their scores. This line might not match expected growth if the student is completing 2 or more activities per week at 75%. The growth may be higher or lower than the Initial Growth Plan, which shows expected growth based on the initial Lexile test.

The teacher should explain the chart to the group so that students understand what they are analyzing. Explain the importance of measuring Lexile growth as an indicator of improvement and how it relates to their goal. Have students analyze their growth on a bi-monthly or monthly basis. Have them pick a data point and choose the data shown in an article or group of articles. They should be able to express what they consider their best strategies for growth or be able to analyze their trouble spots. You can discuss this with students individually or have them submit their analysis. Make sure to have conferences with students who are not demonstrating growth or not really trying to analyze results.

Have students compare their growth plan and current Lexile level to the requirements for their chosen career. They can find this information in Achieve. They can see what level they will need for future employment. Individual conferences are good for planning what a student needs to do. Ask what is most challenging about the lesson. Make sure the student is understanding the vocabulary. Encourage them to keep a digital vocabulary notebook and list new words and use them in a sentence. They should review these words periodically. You can also choose key words for the whole class that relate to articles and have students keep track of these words in a digital notebook.

For a more traditional approach, teachers can provide students with data and let them make individual charts in Excel. If you need to teach students how to make a chart in Excel, do a lesson in making charts or have students watch a video on YouTube.

You can print out individual reports for students in the authentic assessment portfolio. Students can see grades on all assignments and an average of how many activities they are completing weekly. You can also print reports that separate the number of activities below and above 75% (suggested mastery) or reports that are based on Common Core standards.

Ownership is the Key

It’s all a matter of what works for you and your students. The key is student ownership. If students are invested in their results, they will take ownership and become active participants in self-improvement. There are many ways to increase student participation, but the essential element is getting them to make the connection between the work they put in and the progress they get out. It’s making the connection between the short-term assignment and the long-term goal. How you foster investment is between you and your students. Once they connect the immediate task to the long-term goal, you are sure to see results.

Remember, investment is a long-term process. Don’t get frustrated. Good luck.

Joan Reissman, the MCAS Maven, has been advising students and teachers on learning strategies since 2000.

1 Empowering Students With Data; Education Week
2 Are We Motivating Students with Data?; ASCD
3 Is it Good to Listen to Music While Studying?;

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