One of the things I love about my job is that I get to see my students every single day. I do not mean that I merely get to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. What I mean is that I get to see them, observe them, listen to them, and in general pay attention to what is going on in their lives moment to moment. As intervention specialists, our senses are very important when it comes to our students and, as I have written before, we are paid to pay attention. I see every opportunity as an opportunity for collecting data.
I love what I do. I love seeing ‘my’ kids, I love when they pass a spelling test on the first try, I love seeing them make a discovery on their own, I love when the light clicks on in their mind, and I love when a student with an ASD looks me in the eye first thing in the morning and says ‘hello!’ What’s more is that every single one of these events is a mine full of data and evidence that I can use to make important academic and/or behavioral decisions for the student.
The first article written by Ault and Griffen is from the January/February 2013 issue of TEC, Teaching with the System of Least Prompts. Without glossing over the main objective of the article, I would note that the authors give much space to the importance of collecting data in order to monitor the progress of students: “To monitor the progress of students with disabilities, teachers should collect student response data frequently and represent those data visually to easily and quickly determine if adequate progress is being made” (Ault & Griffen, 2013).
A second article from the May/June 2013 issue of TEC, Formative Assessment Made Easy: Templates for Collecting Daily Data in Inclusive Classrooms (Cornelius, 2013) also notes the significance and importance collecting data and using data to make decisions concerning grading, promotion, and programming “based on well-maintained and objective data.” When we have data at our fingertips, we are able to demonstrate why we make the decisions we make regarding IEP objectives, daily classroom instruction, and even for behavior intervention plans.
Cornelius writes, “[C]ollecting data and monitoring student progress is an essential part of decision making in education…Classroom data will demonstrate students’ progress and help teachers plan instruction” (2013). I am uncertain how anyone can make important decisions about IEP objectives/goals, classroom instruction, or even filling out a quarterly progress report without having a stack of paper, pictures, charts, graphs or otherwise laying in front of them. Cornelius concludes the same article this way, “When a teaching team collects and analyzes student data frequently, they can easily adjust instructional pace and student demands to ensure students are making appropriate progress toward content standards.”
I go so far as to teach my paraprofessionals how to collect data for me in the classroom. I have only two eyes and ears and I am not always working directly with a student. So the paraprofessionals in my classroom need to understand what counts as data, what the levels of prompting are, how to record data, and how to carefully place it on my desk when finished with a task.
I also want them to take note of any anomalies or other factors that might have influenced an outcome. I also have the same expectations of the general education teachers who will interact with the students each day. Every student I work with carries around a daily ‘passport’ (thanks Julia!!) where the teacher or lunch room aid or anyone who interacts with them can note on a simple scale their behavior. This data is important because it tells me what others are seeing. It is objective and it gives me another layer of data on the student’s performance and growth.
I don’t stop there either. Every day my own version of a ‘daily report card’ goes home to the parent(s) who is/are asked to read it, sign it, and return it the next day. The parents are encouraged to make their own observations and give me feedback and I do the same. The parent sees their child far more than I do so why should they be excluded from the loop of information and data collection? Parents are or at least should be our first line of information.
Finally, I maintain a separate binder for each student in order to monitor IEP objectives and goals. I created my own simple to use chart so that whether I am writing a progress report, conducting an IEP meeting, or planning daily instruction I have information at my disposal to justify a decision or a course of action. Each binder contains several pages—one page for each IEP goal and its corresponding objectives. I look at and analyze these binders every single day—and sometimes they come home with me on weekends.
This is a lot of work to maintain all these records especially when you consider that I also keep an online grade book, a traditional grade book, and large packet of grades for non-traditional academic tasks (such as file folder tasks). I have found that maintaining data in a highly organized, detailed, daily manner actually saves me time. Having data is also a highly effective method of practicing intervention restraint.
I would like to share with you a little tool I developed and use to help me plow through all of this data on a daily basis. I use the word CAUSE, which in and of itself is rather innocuous and implies no blame, but in the end it reminds me that I am not justified in making rash decisions about ‘my’ students. It reminds me to slow down and take a long hard look at where the student is, how they got there, and, perhaps most importantly, how I as an intervention specialist/teacher need to adjust my own approach to the student. Data tells us a lot—about our students and ourselves.
C. Collect data. Use whatever tools you have available. Develop tools. Use tools provided by CEC, peers, or other reputable sources. Collect it from all sources available: parents, paraprofessionals, instructional aides, principals, cafeteria workers. I often pay general education teachers a visit and just ask them how the student is getting along in class.
A. Analyze data. Do so frequently. Do so often. Do so daily. Spend time with data. Curl up with a hot cup of tea, light a candle, stare at the computer monitor. But do it. Track it. Chart it. Become one with it. J
U. Understand data. Talk to others if it doesn’t make sense. Get peer input. Track the data over several weeks, in varying conditions. When you sit down to talk to a parent about it, be sure you can explain it. In other words, this is no just analyzing the data: this is the point where you begin to assess what the data is telling you, what your all of the long hours you spent analyzing the data have taught you.
S. Save data. It’s not sequential, obviously, but you need to save your data for future reference or analysis or comparison.
E. Engage data. Here is the point where you are going to make important decisions concerning instruction or behavior plans. Here is where you are going to begin digging through your social stories, content standards, behavior plans, past data you have collected, and whatever is available. Here is where you make important decisions in order to help your student achieve and succeed and grow.
I hope this helps you in some small way. Remember, this is what we do. It’s not a chore or a bother. It’s what we do. Please take a minute and share your ways of using/collecting/engaging data.
Special thanks to Dr. Anthony Menendez, one of my graduate professors from Cleveland State University for emphasizing the importance of having and collecting and engaging data while I was a student.