How to Unlock Classroom Starting Points with Data

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To figure out students’ needs, establish classroom starting points. First, gather multiple data points for each student you teach. Second, determine cutoffs for high, average, and low scores. Third, label each child. These three points help you see who needs help – and who needs enrichment.

Classroom Starting Points

Ms. Sneed Learns How to Establish Classroom Starting Points

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, is still learning the ropes. “Okay,” said her mentor, Mrs. Brown. “Today we’ll get started on classroom starting points.”

“What do you mean?” replied Ms. Sneed.

“Well, to establish classroom starting points, you use data. If you lay it out on a table, you’ll see patterns. That helps you see whether a learner is high, average, or low at the beginning of the school year.”

“Oh, I get it. That way, you can sort of predict what they may need,” said Ms. Sneed.

“Yes, you can set up groups and target kids who need help.” Mrs. Brown looked at some files on the computer. “Let’s start with ELA. At the beginning of the year, you used running records to find each child’s DRA score. From the library, we have STAR Reading scores. And here are the standardized test scores for your class for last year.” The mentor clicked to bring up a file.

Analyze Multiple Data Points

“Setting student starting points requires multiple pieces of evidence. Three or more pieces of data will help you see which students need differentiation and/or tutoring,” Mrs. Brown continued.

“Now let’s organize your evidence.” She quickly created a table with five columns – name, DRA, STAR, ISTEP, and Student Starting Point.

Mrs. Brown looked at the screen. “For the starting points, we want to compare your students to one another – not to an outside group. Otherwise, you might end up with all high or all low. However, we want to find kids who need enrichment or remediation. Why don’t you plug the data into the table”

“Sure,” Mr. Sneed agreed. She sat down and waited for instructions.

“It looks like the midpoint for the DRA scores is a 44. That correlates roughly to fourth grade, fourth month. Makes sense. Why don’t we highlight all the 44s in yellow. Then shade the scores higher than 44 in green and less than 44 red.” Ms. Sneed quickly typed the DRA information into the table.

“The STAR Reading scores are higher. The lowest kids scored in the 4s. Average hover around 6 – with a few 5s. And then you’ve got some 7s and 8s. Okay – 4s are red, 5s and 6s yellow, 7s and 8s green.”

Once again, Ms. Sneed started typing.

“The grade level equivalents for DRA and STAR do not match up at all,” sighed Mrs. Brown. “That’s why we use more than one data point. And that’s why we compare kids in one class to one another.”

“For some kids the highighted color matches,” noted Ms. Sneed, “but not many.”

The two continued until all the scores were recorded and highlighted.

classroom starting points

Use Data to Establish Classroom Starting Points

After Ms. Sneed typed the remaining data in the table, she sat back and studied the table. She squinted at the colors and furrowed her brow. “What the —?

“I know,” said Mrs. Brown. “Don’t overthink it, though. We’ll go for two out of three. For example, if a child has two yellows and one green, we’ll mark him as average.”

Ms. Sneed started labeling the starting points. As she moved along, her face relaxed. “Hey, I agree with these kids’ starting points. What I see in the classroom generally matches the labels on this paper.”

“That’s great news,” said Mrs. Brown. “It usually turns out that way.”

Use the Classroom Starting Points Right Away

Mrs. Brown gathered up her things. “So, before I leave, what do you plan to do with this sheet?” she asked her mentee.

Ms. Sneed smiled slyly. “Give it to the principal, of course. We have to turn them in next week.”

“You know what I mean,” snapped Mrs. Brown playfully. “What do you plan to do with it?”

“Yes, Mrs. Brown, I do know what you mean. The kids labeled low will be invited to our weekly tutoring sessions. I can also pull them to the table as needed. Those who are marked as high may need enrichment – or even acceleration. But those in yellow should be just fine with what I’m already doing.”

“Good girl,” said Mrs. Brown. “Now you understand how to find classroom starting points – and what to do with them.”

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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