On Apr 21, 2020
The end of the school year for a special education teacher can be stressful in the best of times. This year is an entirely different animal, as we face the coronavirus head-on and must figure out ways to stay organized in an unorganized world.
I cannot pretend to know what your school district is planning and doing during the pandemic; nor do I know what testing you will need to do before the end of the year or the format it will take. However, I am assuming that when teachers return to classrooms, some form of student assessments will need to be completed. The list of ways we need to assess our students and report data can sometimes feel endless.
I have been there. I have thought to myself that all I actually do is test, never mind teach.
I have seen students crumble with testing anxiety or just not care about assessments at all.
I have seen testing cause major student behavior situations.
I have worried how assessment data will affect my teaching review.
I have been annoyed at rearranging my schedule a million times for the computer lab.
I spent my first few years in education cursing testing and feeling totally overwhelmed by data. I knew I had to make a change.
Hi, I’m Rachael. I’ve worked in special education for the past ten years. I have taught students with severe and multiple disabilities and students in general education. I have taught students in rural areas and students in urban areas. I have taught K4 and worked in adult disability services. I have taught at public schools and at a charter school. I have a master's degree in urban special education, which involved a whole lot of testing students and writing about results. My point here: I have worked with a lot of different students and have done a LOT of assessment over the past ten years.
And I am here to tell you that assessment data does not have to be the source of your frustration.
“We can make [data] work in our favor, and most importantly, in the favor of our students.”
Here are action items that contributed to a shift in my mindset regarding assessment and data collection:
- Make testing work for you instead of against you.
Of course we will have to complete testing such as state assessments, district assessments, IEP goal tracking, etc. Here is where I ask myself how I can combine data from different sources. For example, can I use data from the Iowa Assessments to create a baseline for my reading IEP goals? Can I use subsequent testing data for progress? Can I use data from special education eligibility testing, such as the Battelle Developmental Inventory (BDI), to pair students in my classroom for partner work? As they say, work smarter and not harder.
- Choose to take your own data.
Stay with me here—I know you are wondering why on earth I would suggest you take more data than you need to. Taking your own data not only makes you look exceptional, but tells you what you need to do next as a teacher. When I taught in severe special education classrooms, I focused on behavior data and creating behavior interventions (then used this data for behavior IEP goals). Curriculum assessments are helpful data. So are formative assessments such as exit tickets. Not all data and assessment has to be formal, and you probably already have informal assessment data. This assessment and data collection can be built in to your day to day classroom routine.
- Try to stay organized.
I have to start out by creating a data plan for the end of the school year to stay on track. Once I know dates I put all mandatory testing and due dates on my calendar, then fill in my own data collection accordingly. While lesson planning, I add in how I am taking data and assessing students each hour of the day. From here I can train my paraprofessional on anything she/he needs to know to help with assessment.
- Utilize the data from formal and informal assessments to inform your instruction.
By choosing what data you would like to collect and deciding how to use data to change your teaching, you are taking back the power of assessment and using it in a way that benefits both you and your students. For example, a few years ago I noticed that in my high school ELA classroom of students with mild disabilities, the majority of my students struggled with finding the main idea of nonfiction texts. I knew this from analyzing the data from our most recent district assessment. In order to target this, I started small group, nonfiction main idea reading groups on Fridays. By the next district assessment my students were able to show growth in this area. Assessment data can also be helpful with showing where students do not comprehend important math concepts. For example, in my last class I had multiple students who struggled with division; they also all struggled with place value, something one needs to know in order to complete division problems. When students get to high school it is common to assume competence with these overarching concepts; assessment data can help us find the missing links. An even smaller example is using an exit ticket at the end of class; when students don’t perform well on the exit ticket then I know I have to reteach the concept. These are just three examples of how data has given me the power of knowing what to do next in my classroom.
We are always going to have assessments we must complete with our students. Data is there to help us make confident instructional decisions that are based on facts; it is useless unless we actually unpack it and apply it to change our instruction. I am excited to use this blog as a conduit to help other teachers use assessment data to make a real difference in our classrooms. Data has helped me to become a better teacher, and I hope together we can figure out ways for it to help you in the classroom as well.
There are so many other aspects of teaching that are beyond frustrating: huge class sizes, lack of funding, no access to technology, too much technology (I’m looking at you, smartphones), low pay (I said it)... the list goes on and on. Don’t let data add to your frustration the rest of this difficult school year-- make it work for you instead of against you. This is a mind shift: you are in charge of the data in your classroom. Sure we must collect certain data, but we can make it work in our favor, and most importantly, in the favor of our students.
The school staff I know and others I have seen in the media have absolutely blown me away during this pandemic. You have taken complex problems such as how to continue to teach your students remotely and even set up detailed procedures to make sure students in need continued to receive food. What true heroes you all are. Don’t let end-of-year data worry you on your return—hopefully these tips can help you wrap up your school year and prepare for the next.
Looking ahead, how can I help you make data work for you and your students in your classroom? What would you like to see addressed on this blog in the future? I can’t wait to share more of my experiences and see what we can figure out together.