In today’s education world, teachers are completely surrounded by data, but in many ways, we are left wondering how to apply it to our teaching practices. Because testing data only provides a snapshot of what teachers and students do for a whole school year, it is important that we as educators find ways of systematically evaluating the programs and practices we use in the classroom on a daily basis. My goal as a reading teacher isn’t just to raise test scores, but to teach my students to be stronger readers. If we want to really help our students become better readers, it is imperative to continually evaluate the programs and practices that we use when teaching.
A little over a year ago, I began the process of learning how to systematically evaluate a program that I used in my classroom. While in a M.Ed. program at Berry College, I entered an action research class with the hopes of analyzing the effects of the Independent Reading Assessment (IRA) by Jennifer Serravallo, a whole book comprehension assessment published by Scholastic and adopted by my school. I wanted to evaluate the lessons in the IRA and their impact on students’ whole book comprehension. Little did I know how valuable this information would be to me, my school, my system, and especially my students.
Here’s the process I went through: To begin, I became very familiar with the assess-evaluate-teach framework in the IRA resource. I found it helpful to include my colleagues in this process and to seek advice from them. During grade level meetings, I would explore the IRA framework with the literacy coach at our school. We watched videos of Jennifer Serravallo modeling how to use the IRA and conduct goal setting conferences. We poured over the teacher’s manual studying how to use the assessment and work the lessons into our everyday instruction. We also spent time norming students’ responses, so we could get a better idea of the expectations in grading the assessment. Because of this collaboration and training, I felt very confident in using the IRA.
After administering the assessment, I organized the results and formed small groups of students based on their reading needs. I then taught specific reading lessons to these small groups over a period of time. When I felt that they were ready to be assessed again, I sent them off to show me what they learned. At this point, I had two sets of data to analyze. In order to compare the first assessment to the second assessment, I had to calculate a standardized score for each. Using statistical software, I found the mean score of each assessment and calculated the difference. My students showed a statistically significant increase from the first assessment to the second assessment.
So what does this mean for my classroom? It means that the instruction based on the IRA teaching strategies were effective for my students. It means that my future students will probably benefit from similar instruction, and it means that my colleagues and I now have data to stand behind our instructional practices and resources that we use on a daily basis.
In the future, my students and I can analyze our classroom data with the purpose of continuing to use the practices that work and modifying or eliminating the practices that are not effective. This process will make me a more effective teacher and lead my students to become stronger readers, which of course is my overall goal!