Top 5 Pitfalls Every Math Teacher Makes When Analyzing Data (and How to Avoid Them)

One of the biggest topics today in education is analyzing data. As math teachers, we really get excited about this! But for others, it can be intimidating. We all have that one colleague who immediately gets the glazed-over look when someone starts talking numbers. Let’s take a look at five pitfalls that teachers can encounter when analyzing data and how to overcome them.

1. Using just one piece of data to determine a student’s content knowledge

When first meeting students, summative year-end test scores can give teachers a general idea of a student’s ability, but the test scores do not allow them to see the whole student. For some, year-end tests can foster anxiety, and some students get bored and bubble-in answers without working out the problem. This, coupled with other outside factors, can create skewed results—if something seems off, investigate further. For example, each year my students tracked their year-end test scores while looking for trends and pitfalls. They then set a personal goal for the current year’s test. One year, a student who traditionally earned high scores on her year-end tests, scored considerably lower in the sixth grade. During our goal-setting conversation, she told me she had worn a new pair of pants to school that day and a few of her friends had made fun of her. She started worrying about her outfit, and this took the focus away from her test. To help counteract situations like this, assess and collect data on a daily or weekly basis in your classroom. Assessments can come from warm-ups, checking homework, other formative assessments, and your intuition. When data is not matching a student’s performance, dig deeper. You never know what you may find!

1. Looking at data as a whole vs. investigating individual results

Patterns often arise when inspecting data within small groups. If your most recent test results show 90 percent proficiency, which is great, that still means 10 percent of the students are not proficient. Taking the time to further scrutinize students’ answers can help pinpoint any misunderstandings—create differentiated learning groups and close the gaps of the students who are falling through the cracks. Another alternative way to analyze data in smaller groups is to use the median instead of the mean. Having data in numerical order can assist in breaking the data into more individualized groups and identify trends, especially if outliers exist.

Change your focus to see data as a tool to make your life easier and enhance teaching.

1. Not using data to drive or improve instruction

Data results should be provided in a timely manner, but it doesn’t always have to stem from outside sources. In a recent Twitter chat hosted by DreamBox Learning, (check out the hashtag #EnivisonEDU to follow the conversation), teachers tweeted about creating their own data and using technology to provide instant feedback. By doing this, assessments are geared toward the concepts being taught within the classroom and the results should help to drive instruction and planning. For example, DreamBox provides real-time reporting that can be used to plan as well as set up differentiated groups within the classroom.

1. Not letting students take part in the data analysis

Allowing students to participate in data collection helps them become invested in their learning. They can detect trends, set goals, and track their own progress. I recently spoke with a kindergarten teacher whose students tracked data all year. They set a goal at the beginning of the year as to what they wanted to learn that year. Then they tracked letter identification, sounds, number and shape recognition, and sight words. At the end of the year, the students hosted a data day to showcase their data notebook to their family. It was very successful and gave the students a concrete connection to what they were learning.

1. Not using your PLC to share data and provide best practices

Teachers need time to collaborate, assess, and share what worked (or did not work) within their classrooms. Having common assessments allows teachers to compare common data across your grade level. As a result, teachers are uniting together to use the best teaching practices to create the most productive atmosphere for the students.