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Using Data to Drive Instruction

With the introduction of the Response to Intervention (RtI) model in school districts, the role of data is more vital than ever. Educators are responsible for administering assessments, collecting data, analyzing data, and determining how to use the results. In schools today, assessment and instruction are closely linked.

Data analysis provides educators with the knowledge of what students know, what they should know, and what can be done to meet academic needs. Appropriate interpretation allows the educator to make informed decisions that affect student progress. In our M.Ed. and graduate teacher education programs at Merrimack’s School of Education & Social Policy, we ensure that the educators we teach understand how to use multiple data sources over a period of time to facilitate well-informed instructional decisions. Our hands-on courses allow educators to gain experience in using a variety of assessments and data, including:  

State and District-Wide Assessments:

  • Results from state and district-wide assessments indicate which students performed at the advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic levels. These results help inform educators how to choose student groups, create seating charts, and differentiate instruction.
  • Analysis of test results per period taught can help guide decisions as well. For example, if a high number of students scored advanced in your third period class and a high number of students scored basic in period two, this would prompt an educator to ask what is happening differently in period two than three. Looking at how to adjust the learning and support as needed is a key outcome when analyzing results like these.
  • Examine how “A” students performed on the test. If the strongest students did not perform well, then ask why. Was the performance possibly due to nerves, distractions in the classroom, etc.? Based on the analysis, an educator can take steps next time, prior to the test, provide a quick review of test strategies for lowering anxiety, taking practice tests, maintaining focus during testing, and more.

Formative Assessments:

  • Quizzes, exit slips, and thumbs up/down are quick ways to assess what students know and what skills continue to need to be addressed.

Summative Assessments:

  • Essays, end-of-unit exams, and projects allow educators to measure the growth of individual and whole-group learning. If a large number of students don’t do well on summative assessments, educators need to reflect back on the teaching and make necessary adjustments to the content and/or delivery.


  • Observations indicate how well students are making sense of the content, struggling with a learning activity, and interacting with others.
  • Observation data allows educators to adjust pacing for the whole class or to provide scaffolding for those students who are still struggling.

Educators often collect tremendous amounts of data on students’ attendance, behavior, and performance, but when it comes to improving instruction and learning, it’s not the quantity of the data that counts, but how the information is used (Hamilton et al., 2009). It could be argued as well that it’s the quality of the questions being asked that can lead to the strongest uses of data. In Merrimack’s teacher preparation courses, we provide real-world student assessment data and multi-step projects that allow M.Ed. students to grapple with complexity under the guidance of our faculty who give iterative feedback across the assignments. They can immediately apply what they are learning in their own classrooms as their understanding of data analysis and data-driven decision-making deepens.

Talk to an Application Specialist today for more information about how the online M.Ed. and graduate teacher education programs can help you achieve your professional goals at:


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