Making the Most of Real-Time Reading Data

I bet as a school leader you feel inundated with data. Education is data-rich, but as we all know it is not the data that makes the difference, it is the way that you use it. 

Well, I would like to add another piece that is important for driving literacy in your school: data must be real-time data. What I mean by real-time is collecting on the students’ reading achievement during one week, and using it to guide what will happen in the weeks following. 

To continue to help students grow as readers we must provide powerful, intentional small-group reading instruction. We know that the small group reading table is where readers grow and move to the next level. To support students, teachers must have real-time data that relates to fluency, decoding, and comprehension. It doesn’t matter what tool educators use to gather the information, as long as it is reliable.

Types of Data Points

At my school we have multiple data points, and they change depending on the grade level. 

  • For grades K-2, we use the PALs, DRA, ongoing running records, and anecdotal notes; 

  • In grade 3, we use (among others) PALs, DRA, and ongoing running records;

  • In grades 4 and 5, we use (among others) DRA, DSA, and ongoing running records and anecdotal notes.

Does this seem like too many data points? Well, it all goes back to purpose. Do each of these assessments tell us something different about our reader? Do these assessments provide and verify the next steps needed for the reader?

For example: 

  • In grades 4 and 5, the DSA gives us the word study work that each student should be doing, and what vocabulary to focus on. 

  • The DRA and running records provide us with fluency and decoding information. Both of them provide information on comprehension as well. 

  • Other assessments give us information on the text complexity that a student can handle based upon their ability to infer.

All of these are important factors for fluent readers, which is the goal for students in grades 4 and 5. For students who are still striving with their reading achievement, these assessments also give us information we need for all readers.

How we did it

Our first steps were ensuring that all teachers administered the assessments appropriately so that we had reliable and valid data. Data must provide an accurate picture of the student. We provided videotaped models, conducted face-to-face modeling, co-teaching, and coaching to ensure all teachers were able to administer the assessments. When teachers see it in action and then practice with each other, it gives them the authentic learning experience they can draw upon when they are administering the assessment with their students.

Expectations and Consistency

Second, we had to set expectations for the frequency of the data collection. This is where deep knowledge of your staff and students is especially important. I knew that my teachers needed a year to transition into this important work while not going so slow as to hinder the progress of students. So the first year, we completed running records on all students once a month and conducted weekly anecdotal notes. 

This year, the teachers are completing running records on students who are reading on grade level and above once a month, and bi-weekly for students who are below grade level. Some teachers do them more frequently, based upon the needs of the students. Also, teachers make anecdotal notes daily as they listen to students whisper-read and provide feedback at the small group reading table.

Time and Resource Allocation

Finally, we had to allocate time to daily planning and small-group, data-driven discussions.  

We hold weekly, 80-minute collaborative team meetings (also known as professional learning communities). 

At least one monthly, 80-minute collaborative meeting focuses on analyzing small-group reading data as a grade level. For example, all of our 4th-grade teachers come together Monday afternoon to look at the data and guide next steps for the students. Our literacy team created a binder that has information on each literacy stage, correlation charts for the different reading assessments, comprehension questions based upon DRA level, running record tabs to organize running records, and sheets for anecdotal notes.They always bring the binder to our language arts collaborative team meetings. 

Furthermore, during the meeting teachers use resources such as the Words their Way, Continuum of Literacy and Next Steps in Guided Reading to discuss the data and decide on next steps for the students. 

The role of school leaders

Data-driven decision-making is important to move student progress forward. It is vital to use data to steer small group reading instruction to help all students read on grade level. During the discussions, it is obvious which students are above, on, or below grade level. It helps with intervention and remediation and allocation of those resources. Also, we all know how important it is to celebrate success! When teachers are reviewing the data frequently and they are consistently seeing student growth as readers they celebrate. This celebration sustains the momentum for the work. 

Last but not least, be present at these meetings. Teachers will get the message that leaders are present for valued work. If you truly value and believe that all students can and will read on grade level, you must be present and participate in the discussion. Bring your binder, books, and other resources. You are the teachers’ mirror and their window, reflecting what you want them to be, and you showing them today and where the future can lead them.