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Assessment: Trimming the Data Fat

Mrs. Mimi's Chalk Talks


width=214“Teacher, Teacher, What Do You See?”

“I See Piles of Data Looking At Me.”


If you’ve been regularly reading my column here at TeachHUB, you are probably beginning to think, “this woman is obsessed with organizing.” And you would be right.


However, despite my vigilant dedication to all things organized, somehow all sorts of piles always manage to creep up in my classroom. That’s right, I have piles. Piles of papers. Piles upon piles upon piles...and they’re all staring at me, daring me to do something about them. Or maybe they’re just mocking me and my big organizational ego. Hmm...


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What are in most of these piles, you ask? In my case, most of these are piles of data. Data that has yet to be read and used in any sort of meaningful way. Math data. Reading data. The latest social studies quiz. Data, data, data! 


Each year, we seem to be adding more and more tests without taking any of the old ones away. Getting it corrected seems to be the easy part....using it thoughtfully, well, that’s another story. It is just too much to look at, interpret and file! 


Some of these tests I advocate for and want to collect, knowing that someday this information will be incredibly useful to my teaching. And, of course, some of these tests are a waste of everyone’s time and the only reason I give them because I’m not given any other choice. (Hey, sometimes we just have to do what we’re told to do, especially when it comes to collecting data.) 


So here’s my latest organizational challenge for you...and for myself: Trim the fat from your piles of data.


I already got’s what I’ve got so far:

  • I made a list of all the major subjects that I teach. (Reading, Writing, Word Study, Math, Science, Social Studies).
  • Under each subject, I listed all the ways we assess our students’ progress no matter how I felt about each assessment. 
  • Then I put a star next to those assessments that I consider to be the most valuable to my teaching. You know, the ones that have the potential to inform future groupings of students, indicate students who are truly struggling in a particular skill or change the direction of our learning in a particular area. 

How is this helping you ask? Excellent question! You see, now I know which assessments I am going to focus on. Am I going to stop giving the ones that I find less than informative? Unfortunately, I don’t have the power (or the cajones) to do that. But I can rid myself of those piles by filing those types of assessments immediately rather than shoving them into a pile and fooling myself that I’m going to find some sort of use for them. 


And viola! Half of my piles have miraculously disappeared!


As for those other piles of data...well, for those I thought long and hard about each tests’ specific purpose and how it can concretely change my teaching. 

  • Is it good for forming new reading groups? 
  • Will this assessment help me create future lessons? 
  • Does this test tell me that I need to start pulling a small group to work on more fundamental skills? 

Then I decided how, in the future, I was going to correct each assessment with this new perspective, recording valuable information as I go. For me, that means making a bunch of lists and using a series of color coded post its. Nothing charts, grids or graphs, just a lot of thoughtful data that will actually help me do my job. Oh, and no more piles of “things to look through someday” to drive me crazy. 


How do you keep the piles from driving you crazy? Share in the comments section!