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Using Student Data to Inform Instruction

In my last article, Assessment-Based Instruction, I discussed the importance of whole class diagnostic assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. I also provided a link to free diagnostic assessments (including answers and recording matrices).

ABI is a commitment to students to help them catch up, while they keep up with grade-level instruction. The dual focus is important. Direct whole class instruction is an essential means of delivering Standards-based grade-level instruction; however, the diversity of our learners demands that we concurrently teach to the needs of individual students.

In this article I will provide the research base (from the federal government What Works Clearinghouse) and practical tips regarding the use of formative assessments for ELA and reading intervention teachers. Specifically, we will discuss how quick formative assessments can be used on targeted worksheets and activities to address diagnostically assess determined ELA and reading skill deficits to help students “catch up” to grade level instruction. In other words, this article will not discuss how the teacher can use formative assessments, such as “thumbs up, show me your answer” techniques or embedded assessments, in whole class direct instruction to help students “keep up” with grade level Standards.

The What Works Clearinghouse report, “Using Student Data to Inform Instruction,” applies the most relevant educational research on both uses of formative assessments. Regarding the use of formative assessments to cater instruction to the demonstrated needs of individual students, the report concludes:

“Armed with data and the means to harness the information data can provide, educators can make instructional changes aimed at improving student achievement, such as: prioritizing instructional time; targeting additional individual instruction for students who are struggling with particular topics; more easily identifying individual students’ strengths and instructional interventions that can help students continue to progress…”

The report has recommendations for both teachers and students:

  1. “Make data part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. Collect and prepare a variety of data about student learning. Interpret data and develop hypotheses about how to improve student learning.
  2. Teach students to examine their own data and set learning goals. Teachers should provide students with explicit instruction on using achievement data regularly to monitor their own performance and establish their own goals for learning. This data analysis process—similar to the data use cycle for teachers described in recommendation 1—can motivate both elementary and secondary students by mapping out accomplishments that are attainable, revealing actual achievement gains and providing students with a sense of control over their own outcomes. Teachers can then use these goals to better understand factors that may motivate student performance and adjust their instructional practices accordingly. Students are best prepared to learn from their own achievement data when they understand the learning objectives and when they receive data in a user-friendly format.”

Here’s how to follow these What Works Clearinghouse recommendations:

1. After administering content and skill-based ELA and reading assessments, teachers chart the student results data as relative strengths and weaknesses on progress monitoring matrices.

2. Teachers share this data with students and explain how to interpret the information on the matrices. I suggest a simple system of a numbered list of boxes, corresponding to the diagnostic assessments, in which a blank box indicates mastery of the skill or content and a slash (“/”) indicates a skill or content that needs to be mastered.

3. The teacher helps students and their parents set individual goals to “catch up” to grade level instruction by mastering each deficit.

4. Teachers purchase or create diagnostically-based ELA and reading worksheets and activities to address each numbered skill or content focus.

In a 2016 article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” for the American Psychological Association, researchers recommend the following guidelines for deliberate practice (re-ordered and edited). My comments follow. These are necessary components for well-designed targeted worksheets or activities:

  • “Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Directions must facilitate independent practice and be consistent across all worksheets and activities. If a teacher is assigning different learning activities to different students, students must be able to work on their own to free teachers up to monitor the class as a whole.
  • Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. Students need both clear definitions and specific examples to learn unmastered content and skills.
  • Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Students need just enough, but not too much practice on any content or skill. Additionally, students need immediate feedback on their practice. Rather than having students turn work for teacher grading, I suggest providing answer booklets to permit students to grade and self-edit their own work. Students learn best when correcting their own errors. The teacher requires student to use different color pens or pencils for corrections and assures student that they will not be penalized for wrong answers to discourage cheating. This process affords the students with immediate feedback and re-teaching.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. After self-correcting their practice, students complete a quick formative assessment to master the content or skill. I recommend a writing application.

Following are examples of quick writing application formative assessments for remedial ELA and reading worksheets:

  • Spelling−Write an original sentence including each example of the i before e spelling rule, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Grammar−Write an original sentence including the past progressive verb tense, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Mechanics−Write an original sentence including proper use of commas with three items in a list, not using any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Writing−Write an original paragraph without using any “to be” verbs. Don’t use any examples found on this worksheet.
  • Reading−Write an original sentence in which you infer what the author means in this sentence.
  • Vocabulary−Write an original sentence, using context clues to show the meaning of hyperbole.

5. After completing the formative assessment, a student brings the self-graded worksheet or activity up to the teacher for review in a mini-conference. The teacher discusses the writing application with the student and determines whether mastery has or has not been achieved. If mastered, the student is instructed to change the slash (/) into an “X” on the recording matrix. I recommend posting the class matrices on the wall with either student names or i.d. numbers; however, other teachers have students keep their own writing folders with individual matrices. If the formative assessment has not been mastered, the teacher may elect to have students re-do the sentence or complete additional remedial work on the content or skill with formative assessment.

The author of this article includes targeted worksheets and formative assessments in each of his ELA and reading intervention programs to help students “catch up” to grade-level instruction. Mark Pennington’s programs also provide Standards-based instruction, which use formative assessments to inform teacher instruction of the grade-level Standards.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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