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Data inquiry cycle

05 May Inform Your Instruction with a Data Inquiry Cycle

By Amber Villa-Zang and Amy Meyers, Rubicon International

May 8th and 9th, Rubicon International will be hosting the Western Catholic Schools Summit in Garden Grove, CA. Leading up to the Summit, we will be sharing blog posts from our presenters, giving an overview of the fruitful, informative, and pertinent topics to be presented at the Summit.

Research confirms what common sense has long suggested; we should base our curricular decisions on concrete data. While the concept of data driven decision-making seems straight forward, putting it into practice can be challenging, especially when it comes to curriculum. A curriculum process is cyclical. To be relevant it should be created, taught, reviewed, and adjusted. However, despite best intentions, in a busy environment with competing priorities, it can be common for schools to focus on developing curriculum without following through on the stages of reviewing and making adjustments in a targeted way.

To help you use data to truly drive changes in your curriculum, we’ve developed a step-by-step approach to guide a Curriculum Data Inquiry Cycle.

As you read, consider the following Essential Questions:

  • How can you use assessment data to drive unit development in Atlas?
  • What other conversations or areas of focus can drive unit development?
Data Inquiry

Click on the image above for the Data Inquiry Protocol

Step 1: Gain Perspective

The first step is to figure out what you want to focus on. When you think about your students, what have you noticed? When do you see them struggle? The goal of gaining perspective is to identify the most important questions you want to answer with the data. These are your driving questions. As a practitioner, this allows you to really use data to zero in on what matters most.

To do this, take a few minutes to identify the most important questions you have about your students. Think through:

  1. What are the key questions you trying to answer?
  2. What curriculum changes could you make if you were able to answer this question?
  3. Based on all of this, how high of a priority is this question?

If you’re leading a group, encourage teachers in grade level or department meetings to think through student-centered questions such as those listed on the Curriculum Data Inquiry Protocol worksheet.

For example, as an elementary school teacher I want to identify the specific Math concepts my students understand and the concepts that they haven’t yet mastered. 

Step 2: Prepare Data

Ok, now that we’ve thought through what we want to answer. Let’s gather and prepare our data. Again we will want to think through some questions such as:

What information or resources will help answer your question? In other words, what kind of data should you gather? We would suggest including:

  • Diagnostic assessment reports (such as STAR 360 )
  • Atlas curriculum maps,
  • Lesson plans
  • Textbooks
  • Instructional resources
  • Student work
  • Behavioral data

KEEP IN MIND: Once you’ve gathered all the data, it’s important to take the time to think about any “data pitfalls” that might be reflected in your data. To do this, be sure to trust your professional judgement and consider:

  • Your confidence in the information
  • The reliability of the scores
  • The significance of what they reflect

For example, a pitfall I might consider is how well the diagnostic assessment reflects each student’s ability versus reflecting how well students are able to navigate the assessment format. Some students might have struggled with paying attention while another might have been confused by the directions of the assessment. As the classroom teacher I might then decide to adjust grouping based on my professional judgement.

Step 3: Discover or Uncover

Now that we have our driving question and data at hand, we can begin to use our data (our example: STAR 360 data). This can be done in teams or as an individual teacher. Running a State Standards Report for your class will allow you to ask the driving questions:

      • Where do we have the most growth?
      • Where do we have the least growth?

Next, based on your assessment results, identify the standards we need to focus on to increase student growth?

For example: if we return to my driving question,  I see from mt STAR data that a third of my class is within estimated mastery of generating and analyzing patterns (CCSS 4.OA.C.5). but the majority are still having difficulty with this concept.

Here is where we turn from our STAR assessment data to our Atlas Curriculum Maps to uncover and discover where in the curriculum these standards are taught. With a few reports in Atlas, teachers are able to identify where and when specific standards are addressed in their curriculum

Standards Analysis: This report gives an overview of your alignment to a specific set of standards by class and subject area.

Standards Overview: This report allows you to search the content of a specific set of standards and see how those standards have been targeted in the curriculum.

Search Curriculum: This report allow you to broaden your search by using a key word to see where a specific concept or standard might exist in the the curriculum.

As you read through your reports, ask yourself, what confirms your expectations? Why did you have these expectation? What surprises you?

For example, as I look over my Standards Analysis and Standards Overview report, I see that I only address patterns at the beginning of the year. By using the Search report, I’m also able to see that this standard hasn’t been targeted often in the previous school year.

Next, review your Class Resources and Textbooks to see where and how these standards are addressed in our resources. As you do this, think through want you want students to learn by asking yourself:

  • Where does engagement live in these standards?
  • What activities could we create to address these standards?

Step 4: Meet, Discuss, Adjust

Based on your findings from your STAR Assessments, Atlas reports and various classroom resources, what changes are you going to make to your curriculum? How will you adjust your classroom instruction and modify learning activities?

Returning to my Math example, I can turn to my colleagues for ideas and support. In a grade level or Math PLC meeting we might brainstorm and share different ways we target these standards.

To support collaboration, consider creating a spreadsheet where individuals can list standards and teachers can offer grade-specific resources or activities aligned to that standard. Below is an example from a team of K-8 educators who did this for Math:

Step 5: Identify Next Steps

Once you’ve made adjustments to your curriculum and instruction, reflect on how they impacted student learning. Consider setting SMART goals for your driving questions as a way to gauge your progress. Finally, think about what area of your curriculum you need to focus on next.

Before we wrap up, let’s return briefly to the Essential Question posed at the beginning of this post.

  • How can you use assessment data to drive unit development in Atlas?
  • What other conversations or areas of focus can drive unit development?

While the curriculum process is a cycle, that doesn’t mean you have to develop the curriculum in a specific order. There can be any number of ways to approach curriculum development and revision. Our goal should be to authentically document what we do in the classroom, and to approach our curriculum in a spirit of inquiry, collaboration, and continual improvement.

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