Data Driven Instruction

Walter Duncan is a 15-year veteran K-12 teacher. His students were ranked in the top 15% of all Massachusetts Public School students on MCAS ELA in 2012. He has deep experience getting the best out of his kids in inner-city school districts such as Detroit, Washington DC, and Boston. Additionally he is the co-founder of Design By Educators the makers of the Quick Key Mobile app, a social impact company that seeks to empower teachers to more effectively close the achievement gap. The free Open Beta version of the Quick Key is available for download on the Quick Key Homepage


 Data Driven Instruction

It was a Thursday, the day was marked for professional development. I was in my first year at a high performing, "no excuses" charter school. The results were in from our first benchmark exam of the year. We sat in the meeting, a little uneasy, all knowing that without saying it out loud we were being judged by the results. We gathered together and went over the benchmark data as a group. We found out how well our students were doing in comparison to other students of the same grade level within the school and within the Charter School network. We needed to improve, the pressure was on. We received a short pep talk from our school leader about how we were going to use the data from benchmark assessments to target the areas of our students' weakness. It was a great pep talk, and I left the meeting fired up!
I was sent by myself to my classroom, with a password to access the data from my students. As I opened the portal I was overwhelmed. Each standard was listed. First, I had to determine how my three sections performed on all the standards as a whole. Then, I had to look at what standards more than 30% of each group struggled with. After three hours of doing this with no support, just figuring it out on my own, I had an epiphany. It was bitter sweet. It was sweet because I understood how I was going to get the most out of the data I had just received (even though it was poorly presented to me and tedious to navigate). It was bitter, because it meant I still had hours and hours of work to do, before I could get back to planning my lessons, grading assessments, and creating my materials. I began to break down each question and find the common errors, I would go back to the benchmark exam and see what distractor answers the students chose, and slowly I began to make sense of the data. Gradually, patterns began to emerge. 
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Getting the data from the previous three months was helpful. But it meant I had to restructure future units, to include ways to circle back and reteach what the benchmark data had shown me. This threw my year plan into disarray. But what could I do?  I bore down, reworked my units, and retaught the areas that needed to be addressed. I did it, but it was kind of miserable. I could feel my joy and enthusiasm waning. The kids could feel it too! They could sense that I was feeling tense and under pressure, and they also struggled with going back over things they had already covered. No one was very happy, but we all did it together. And you know what?  Their scores improved that year, and I did not burn out. But I knew there had be a better way. How could I get relevant data without depleting the joy, engagement and enthusiasm that I work so hard to create in my class?
I realized I needed to have a better grasp of what the students mastered the same day that I taught it. I needed to get more out of the formative assessments I was already doing. Instead of just looking over my daily exit tickets, I needed to track them more closely. I found that this was the best way to stay up to date in real time with my student performance. Again, I met with a brick wall! I had over ninety students! Grading and doing item analysis on 90 exit tickets a day was unsustainable. I did as much as I humanly could, but there had to be a better way.
These were the experiences that led me to create Quick Key Mobile™ in conjunction with my Co-Founder Isaac Van Wesep. I needed a tool to grade and quickly give me the data from daily formative assessments, benchmark exams, or weekly quizzes. Quick Key does just that, and it does it fast! There is no question that using data to drive instruction is one of the keys to improving student performance, and now teachers can use the Quick Key App to help them do it quickly and effortlessly!
Please check out my short film on how to use Quick Key for your formative assessments,  and remember we are all connected!

Walter Duncan
Co-Founder Quick Key Mobile

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