Using data to improve student outcomes

Busy teacher edition

Teacher collecting data

Collecting data while juggling all the other responsibilities of a teacher can be challenging. That being said, the benefits of compiling data and using it to guide your teaching practices can save you time in the long run, all while improving outcomes for your students.

How can you balance these benefits with the lack of time and resources? Read on for some helpful tips on how you can collect data quickly and efficiently.

What skills should you collect data on?

If you can’t collect data on everything you’re teaching (realistically, who can?), try to focus your efforts on the student’s IEP goals.

If time and resources allow, collecting data on other foundational skills that will lead to the student quickly mastering related skills will be the most impactful. Think of subtraction as a foundational skill that needs to be mastered in order to learn multiplication, division, etc.

You may also want to collect data on any behavioral skills you hope to see a change in. Remember to collect data on both the challenging behavior you are wanting to see a decreasing trend in, as well as the new, prosocial behavior you are teaching as a replacement to that challenging behavior. You’ll want to see an increase in the prosocial behavior.

When should you collect data?

You do not need to collect data every day! Taking a baseline measure, or a measurement of where the skill is at before any teaching or intervention, and several intervention points will give you everything you need. The baseline measure will show you where the student is starting, and the intervention points you take while teaching will help you monitor progress.

For your intervention points, take those data right before you begin your teaching session. This is called cold probe data. This gives you an accurate measure of the student’s skill level without needing to worry about data collection while you are teaching.

Once you see that the student is heading towards mastery, ensure you collect two or three data points at mastery level. Don’t forget maintenance and generalization data after the student has mastered the skill!

How to collect data in a meaningful way

Two words: data sheets.

If you do not already have a data sheet, there are plenty of templates online. It’s also easy to create your own!

For a discrete skill, or one that requires only one response, this is as simple as recording if the skill was correct, incorrect or prompted. Think, identifying letter sounds. You can also specify if a verbal, gestural or physical prompt was provided.

For a chained skill, or one that requires a number of responses that must be performed in a certain order, you can use the same task analysis you are teaching the skill with to collect data. Think, writing a paragraph.

The only difference between the discrete skill and the chained skill would be that you are recording if each step of the skill was correct, incorrect or prompted. For example, you may use a paragraph writing task analysis with the following steps:

  1. Writing a topic sentence
  2. Writing three supporting detail sentences
  3. Writing a conclusion sentence.
Making data-based decisions 

So, you have lots of data…now what? Here’s how you can use those data to make instructional decisions that will improve your students’ outcomes.

For your chained skills, identify which steps the student has mastered, and which steps the student still needs practice and support.

  • Save instructional time by only teaching those steps that the student needs extra practice and support with.
  • Once your student is scoring higher on those steps, pull the whole skill together and measure again for mastery.

For your discrete skills, look for trends and patterns.

  • Save instructional time by analyzing your data every three data collection sessions to see if there has been a change. Analyzing your data frequently saves you from wasting time on instructional strategies that are not effective for your student.
  • A good rule of thumb is:
    • If there has been an increase, stay the course
    • If the data are stagnant or there is a decrease, change your instruction.
How TeachTown supports data collection

TeachTown is an education software company that provides educators and clinicians with curriculum and education programs that measurably improve the academic, behavioral and adaptive functioning of students with moderate to severe disabilities.

TeachTown solutions provide built-in data collection with automatic reporting capabilities. With our K-12 standards-based, adapted core curriculum, enCORE, educators can input a student’s IEP goals and have data routinely collected with every click of the mouse.

Learn more at

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