Reading is a complex activity. It involves vocabulary, syntax, cultural knowledge and other elements, and it relies on the brain’s ability to self-monitor. As such, it is not difficult to spot a struggling reader. However, teachers need to do more than simply recognize the problem. They must be able to identify specific strengths and weaknesses in each student. By using reading assessments and the data they provide (combined with research-based curricula), teachers can identify student needs and make strategic instructional plans to improve reading skills.
Identifying Student Needs Using Reading Data
Accurate reading data is one important tool teachers can use to identify the needs of their classes — as well as individual students’ needs. In some cases, an entire class may appear to be missing a particular comprehension strategy or decoding skill. Data can give the teacher a clear picture of which strategy or skill needs particular attention. Perhaps the problematic concept came up in the curriculum on a special day, before or after a break, or during testing when students were simply not in the frame of mind to get busy and work. In these cases, teachers know exactly what to review to improve the reading skills of the entire classroom. In other cases, teachers may realize that they need to present certain material in more than one way in order to reach all types of learners in the classroom.
Data provide insight into individual student needs as well, including why they may be lagging behind their classmates or who would benefit from enrichment activities. These data can also help teachers group students by ability. Teachers can determine which students are reading above, at and below grade-level by collecting and reviewing student data. This means teachers can adjust assignments as needed and make appropriate research-based curricular materials available to each group.
Motivating Students With Reading Data
Research has shown that sharing reading data with students can be a powerful motivator. According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, “Teachers should provide explicit instruction to elementary and secondary students on regularly using achievement data to monitor their own performance and establish learning goals.” Students who see and chart their own progress are more likely to take responsibility for their own learning, which leads to improved reading skills. Teachers can enhance this motivation by celebrating goal achievement with their students. When students see others recognize their success, they are more likely to continue setting and achieving new goals.
Using Data to Provide Professional Development
If teachers and administrators want to see improved reading skills, they must be willing to take the necessary time to carefully analyze student data. Sometimes it will be easy to identify weaknesses that require re-teaching material to an entire class. At other times, the performance scores of specific students will drive the decisions behind more targeted enrichment or intervention support.
Another benefit of data collection is that it can determine professional development needs. If teachers notice a trend of lower vocabulary scores, school administrators and professional learning communities may consider offering professional development support in vocabulary instruction methods. If the general comprehension scores of one classroom are above average while another group appears to be struggling, teacher-to-teacher peer support can bridge that gap.
Students enrolled in a master’s degree in reading program can expect extensive training in reading data collection and analysis. The process can be tedious and time-consuming, but according to SEDL, an affiliate of American Institutes for Research, “A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in education, information speaks volumes. Data analysis can provide a snapshot of what students know, what they should know, and what can be done to meet their academic needs. With appropriate analysis and interpretation of data, educators can make informed decisions that positively affect student outcomes.”
Learn about the Arkansas State University online MSE in Reading program.