Using Baseline Data to Inform Instruction

It’s no secret that data can be daunting. For some of us, the word “data” means pile-high clipboards and stacks of complex data sheets or binders of reports. Data can also feel like never-ending lists of impersonal statistics that are difficult to difficult to comprehend and cumbersome to analyze.

When we look at data through this lens, it becomes impossible to see how data can improve student performance and enhance holistic education practices, but it can. So let’s break it down.

In it’s simplest form, data is a collection of facts and statistics that can be used for planning or analysis. All educators are charged with ensuring they use data to inform instruction, so students benefit from evidence-based techniques and approaches to education. Data can also be helpful in monitoring student progress and identifying areas of need through assessments.

Pre-tests, homework, attendance, grades and test scores are all data sources that help inform classroom, school and district decisions.

What is baseline data and how is it collected?

Baseline data is a measurement that is collected prior to intervention or teaching starting. It can be collected through various measures including: percent accuracy, frequency, duration, rate and intervals. When selecting a measure of baseline data collection, it is important to consider how intervention or instructional data will be collected to ensure consistency.

Percent accuracy is collected by calculating the number of target responses divided by the total number of opportunities. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Percentage of spelling words spelled correctly
  • Percentage of correct math problems
  • Percentage of items correctly identified

You can record frequency by tracking the number of each instance of a behavior. Collect frequency data with counters, tallies or a similar technique. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read
  • Number of times a student gets out of their seat
  • Number of times students raise their hands

Duration is measured by tracking how long a behavior occurs. To record duration, start a timer when the behavior commences and stop the timer when the behavior ceases. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • How long a child engages in tantrum behavior
  • How long a child engages in peer interactions
  • How long it takes to complete lesson plans for one week

Rate is calculated by recording the number of behaviors per unit of time. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read per minute
  • Number of math problems completed per minute
  • Number of tantrums per hour

Interval data can be used when tracking each occurrence of behavior is not possible, or when the start and end time of the behavior is not clear. You can also use interval data to obtain a sampling rather than an exact count. Also you can measure interval data by determining a preset time interval and then marking whether the behavior occurred during that interval. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • The occurrence of body rocking
  • The occurrence of staying in an assigned area
  • The occurrence of off-task behavior

Why is baseline data important and when is it used?

Without baseline data, many educators run the risk of failing to show progress in a number of student populations, such as with at-risk students, English language learners or students with disabilities.

Baseline data should always serve as a starting point for instruction. It justifies the need for behavioral intervention plans and allows for shifts in instruction that help every student achieve progress. Also it aids in proper selection of skill acquisition activities and allows educators to determine appropriate interventions with a degree of accuracy that increases likelihood of student success.

With baseline data, educators can essentially create a roadmap for students to achieve their educational goals and gain the support they need to master skills, lessons and more. Despite growing needs and changes in the educational landscape in America, baseline data continues to be a useful tool for educators to track and analyze student progress across the country. When you use data to guide instruction, there’s no telling what you’ll discover.

But one thing’s certain: You’ll create a dynamic and individualized experience your classroom that will move your students and school forward.

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