In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country were forced to close and to quickly – sometimes frantically – transition to distance learning. In this environment, distance learning data has proven to be invaluable in strengthening communication between teachers and students, improving the ROI of tech expenditures, and driving better student outcomes. In this post, we talk about the importance of data, how it can lead to better learning outcomes when properly used, and questions to consider when gathering, analyzing, and acting on the data you gather on your distance learners.
A long-standing problem in education has been determining whether students are making progress and what teachers and educators can do to help them along the way. Whether your school engages in remote, hybrid, or in-class instruction, accurate and actionable data on student learning can improve class-level instruction and guide district-level decision-making.
All of us – students, parents, teachers, and school districts – want to see our students back in school. Many educators, however, have no real experience with remotely teaching large numbers of students, and there is little applicable research that can guide them during these unprecedented times. Quickly and effectively determining what works – and what does not – is critical, and many have turned to data to help direct school and district decision-making.
Why Data and Analytics?
Schools gather a variety of data to understand and track student progress toward achieving learning goals. These data points include assessment scores, participation levels (in-class and online), and overall student engagement. Social, economic, and mental/emotional data points can also be useful, depending on the types of assessments your school or district uses, the IT systems you have, and the metrics you track. This data works together to form big-picture insights, which teachers and district leaders are able to use to track student success and adapt instruction accordingly. It also provides students with the feedback they need to take more ownership of their personal learning goals.
When used as part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), this data allows us to measure student progress – within traditional curriculum metrics as well as in important social, communication, and foundational skills. Distance learning has dramatically altered the way we gather data regarding these IEP goals, forcing us to rethink evidence gathering and measuring techniques.
While students, parents, teachers, principals, and district leaders all work toward the shared goal of improving student learning outcomes based on the available data, tech solutions have proved to be an invaluable asset during the move to remote learning. Technology can help collate, disaggregate, filter, manage, and monitor data, and it can be used to identify who is using which resources – and how much – so that you can make better student development decisions around the curriculum. This, in turn, can help drive the adoption of useful tools, which can then help bridge the gap between students who are successful and those who are not.
If we do not base decisions on accurate and actionable data, it becomes all too easy to base them on opinions or assumptions. School and teaching decisions must be made based on data so that we avoid the pitfall of simply going with the loudest voice in the room. The same applies to optimizing how funds are spent and ROI is tracked, how curriculums are designed and the resources students need are identified, how we can measure whether they are learning, and how to troubleshoot and improve upon systems that are not working. All of these questions can be answered using data.
Types of Data to Collect
When talking about data, however, we must first ask:
What data do we need?
How do we gather that data?
How can that data be used for educator collaboration in supporting student learning?
Below are four important types of data you may already be gathering on your remote or distance learners. If you are not, it would be worth considering how your school or district can go about deploying the systems needed to track this data.
On average, the time spent on specific tasks for secondary students falls between 45 and 60 minutes. You can poll students to learn more about how much time they are spending on tasks. You can poll teachers to see how long they are recommending their students spend on those tasks.
Data can be gathered from LMS (Learning Management System) logins and EdTech apps or tools that track app/tool usage and engagement time.
Activity Completion Data
Engagement and participation are arguably more important than subject matter mastery during this unplanned and protracted e-learning phase our students and teachers (and parents and others) are in. If we can encourage more participation, student performance should naturally improve alongside this trend.
Activity completion data to collect includes data from completion reports taken from online apps and tools, assignment submission data, and learning goal completion data which can use weekly, monthly, or semesterly data to measure student performance against set goals.
Learning Preference and Contextual Data
We have all had our learning buttons reset with the move to distance learning. Feel free to experiment with lesson design and to ask your students, their parents, and your peers for feedback. Try to hone into what works well with students and what does not, such as social icebreakers at the beginning of each online lesson, and leverage other data-gathering techniques as best you can, such as one-on-one social/emotional check-ins or visits to student homes. Ask students for comments on the way you structure your classes or share polls or questionnaires with them that they can answer anonymously to gather data on preferences.
An important part of getting data right in the distance learning world is understanding that more is not automatically better. You must analyze the data – and the decisions that can be made using that data – to identify what matters the most. Achievement based on IEPs and meeting student needs are key metrics to measure, so regularly compare achievement data against student goals, have conversations with your students regarding strength or weakness, and take note of other metrics you may want to incorporate into your analytics dashboards, such as student welfare Internet access, and their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Educators are responsible for ensuring each student makes progress towards IEP goals, including those with physical or cognitive disabilities. Data is immensely helpful in this effort, as teachers can use it to guide instruction and assess student and classroom/remote learning needs for individual students.
Instead of lamenting the fact that many students have lost a lot of time and the benefits of in-class instruction, we can celebrate the fact that this remote learning experiment we are all in presents an opportunity to better personalize learning for individual students. While some degree of social learning and collaboration has been lost in distance learning, students now have a bigger push to take ownership of their personal learning goals and chart out their own learning paths.
Here is how teachers can use distance learning data to achieve this level of personalized learning for their students.
First, extract insights from assessment data for individual students. You can only personalize student learning goals if you have access to – and are then able to analyze – student-specific data. Assessments can include standardized test scores, social/behavioral assessments, writing assignments, or any other way you provide students to express themselves. Administer assessments to understand gaps in student skills, knowledge, or mastery of standards. Depending on the assessments chosen by your district, these assessments can include iReady, MAP, etc.
If your students are behind academically, it might be a good time to revisit how you can help them meet learning goals. Based on the distance learning data your district obtains, sort your students into three groups: students who are at risk/behind, students who are on track, and students who exceed standards.
Next, create personalized goals for each student group. What is their current skill level and what do they hope to achieve by the middle of the year and the end of the year?
Based on the assessments you conduct, you can create a mastery-based class where students progress at their own pace. Alternatively, you can split the school week to provide everyone with dedicated time for activities they need to catch up in or give them extra time for activities they are interested in. You may also move toward providing students with more one-on-one or small-group instruction and blended learning.
Communicating with Stakeholders
Finally, the coronavirus-induced academic slide is something that everyone is concerned about, so you must plan how relevant parties – parents, school district decision-makers, and the students themselves – are apprised about student progress. Data can be misleading if used or interpreted incorrectly, so you must share relevant, accurate, and actionable data with the individuals in the care and support networks of individual students.
How School Leaders Can Use Data
School leaders can use data to create a culture of collaboration and facilitate data-driven decision-making and instruction at all levels of the district. What will schools look like over the coming months and – hopefully – once COVID-19 is no longer a major disruptor? Forward-thinking requires us to focus on how school leaders and supporting stakeholders can facilitate teachers in using student data.
School leaders should work to intentionally and regularly gather feedback from teachers. This should not be a one-off at the beginning of the school year or once a semester. If you take the time to check in with teachers – either individually or in small groups – and through listening to their unique stories, better understand their unique needs, you can become a more adaptive, responsive leader..
Remote learning has required teachers, school leaders, parents, and instructional coaches to re-think instruction to help students identify personal learning goals, restructure the classroom to support individual students, and support teachers as they extract insights from – and then take actions on – distance learning data. It has not been without challenges, but it has been an opportunity to rethink how remote learning data can support goal setting and encourage students to take more ownership of their learning.
Whether you are a teacher or a school leader implementing the steps above, here are a few best practices to keep in mind as you seek to get the most out of your data-driven initiatives.
Identify and implement channels through which your students can support each other, either through mentoring or tutoring, to achieve mastery.
Take some time to dig into the data you already have at your disposal. This will set you and your students up for success in the long run and avoid duplicating efforts.
Look at student data holistically, as well as through the lenses of socio-economic, cultural, racial, and other demographic data you have. This will help root out any biases that can impact the efficacy of your decisions.
Hold yourself and your students accountable for the mid-year and end-of-year goals you set. Be sure to monitor student progress throughout the year and compare it with these goals.
Partnerships with families are important for student success. Be sure to highlight student strengths whenever speaking with parents, especially the parents of at-risk children.
Ensure that students and educators have a clear understanding of student learning goals and what success looks like. Work together to discuss the strategies and approaches that have been helpful and those that did not impact student learning outcomes.
Use different forms of data to analyze progress, achievements, and obstacles.
If possible, create a data analysis team that can take charge of extracting insights from student data to guide teacher instruction and district-level policies.
The right data and analytics solution can give you the insight you need into student and operational outcomes that can identify obstacles and help you strategically overcome any learning barriers. You need insight into both the qualitative and quantitative factors that affect remote learning. Remember: understanding how students are doing academically and how they use the digital tools available to them is just one piece of the puzzle. Measuring the long-term impact of your EdTech initiatives, understanding prevention and intervention strategies, and gaining visibility into the social and emotional learning journeys of your students is just as important.
Understanding the data you have, knowing what to look for, and implementing policies or advocating for change require collaboration, stakeholder buy-in, and an understanding of student, school, and district-level challenges and opportunities. Kajeet’s distance learning suite of solutions can help you get started, so visit us here to speak with one of our Education Solutions Architects and learn more about how we help students, educators, and policymakers support continued student success.