Data – Friend or Foe?

Caitlin Gawlowski Assessment, Education Policy

SHARE THIS STORY: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+

The beginning of a new school year is all about getting to know your new students, showing classroom procedures and rules, making a new friend or two.. right?




The beginning of a new school year is all about data. Gathering any and all data about your new group of students to meet their instructional needs.


Let me begin by saying I strongly believe in the importance to using data to inform classroom instruction. It doesn’t make sense for me to teach my students to read multisyllabic words if they don’t have foundational reading skills mastered, nor does it make sense to spend weeks and weeks teaching addition facts that my students already know. I need to know what my students can successfully do on their own, and what skills they need to develop in order to teach them effectively.


This is how gathering that data has played out in my 2nd grade classroom.


During the 2nd week of school, I gave my students the math pretest. While this may not seem like a big deal, it’s the first time my students have taken a district test with a bubble sheet. It’s only 25 or so questions long, but for a 2nd grader it seems like as if it’s about 250 questions. I explain to my students that this test may be difficult now, but it’s to let me know what things they already know so I can teach them only the things they don’t know. I tell them that it’s okay if they look at the test and don’t know anything on it, because by the end of the year they’ll know everything on it. I still spend most of the morning wiping tears away from the faces of my 7 year olds (sometimes 6 year olds if they’re one of the younger ones) and telling them to do their best and that it is okay if they don’t know something right now.


Over the next 2 weeks, I have to administer a variety of literacy assessments. I like to start with the writing assessment to see what writing skills my students have, since it’s the easiest of the literacy assessments. Usually there aren’t tears over this test, unless their mine when I see that some students are still writing their name after 10 minutes of writing.


I have 2 sets of individual reading assessments to give my students, which are not painful in nature, but extremely time consuming. There’s the phonics analysis, where I figure out which skills my students can apply when decoding words and the Informal Reading Inventories, also known as IRIs, where I listen to students read, observe reading behaviors, and determine their reading level. The time it takes to give these 2 tests ranges from 10-30 minutes per students. When you have 26 students in your class, and you are the only one testing, it takes up quite a bit of time.


I find the data I get from these assessments to be accurate and reliable. The district math test tells me who I will need to challenge in math this year since they already have a good grasp on 2nd grade math skills, or even who should be in 3rd grade math. I learn who my reluctant writers are, and who my great storytellers are from the writing assessment. The reading assessments show me my emergent readers are, and who can read fluently. I also value the information I learn about my students from getting to know you activities, conversing with students, and observing my students interacting with each other in discussions or recess. It’s easy for these things to get put on the back burner to accommodate all the beginning of the year assessments, and I wish there was an easy way to get all of these things done in a timely manner.


I truly value the data I get from all these assessments, but I still don’t know – is data my friend, or my foe?


Caitlin was born to be a teacher, although she did not realize that teaching was her calling until she went to college. She has always loved to write, and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before beginning her freshman year of college, she changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and has never looked back. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University, and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during her student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District. Caitlin spent 9 years in the classroom teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and holds a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2021-2022 school year marks the beginning of her 10th year teaching, where she will be working as an Academic Interventionist, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification. If she is lucky enough to have free time, you can find her traveling Arizona with her husband and son, spending time with her friends and family, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

Comments 4

  1. James King

    I did something similar this year.

    Last year, I trusted high school freshmen knew what a noun was and about mid year I realized they were using vocabulary incorrectly.

    So this year I did a grammar pretest. The results fortified my part of speech lessons, and made me feel like there was value in them, and not just something I was breezing past!

    1. Caitlin Corrigan

      It sounds like you were able to use the testing in a way that is “friendly”, and in a way that added value to your teaching. I’m so surprised to hear that high school freshmen didn’t know about nouns – that’s our current grammar focus in 2nd grade!

  2. Donnie Lee

    I remember giving tests very similar to this when I was teaching second grade. They provided me with very valuable information about my students. I began to track the time I spent though giving those assessments multiple times of the year. It came to about 6 weeks worth of testing. I knew right then and there that testing was my foe. I didn’t have enough instructional time to address the data I was getting from all of my assessments. I had to evaluate which ones were the most crucial, which ones were mandated by the district or state, and which ones I could let go off.

    1. Caitlin Corrigan

      Wow, 6 weeks worth of testing! That sounds about right. It makes it difficult to find value in these assessments when it seems like we spend more time giving the assessments than teaching our students.

Leave a Reply to Donnie Lee Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *