Data can't drive instruction, but they make a good map: Teachers' use of large -scale formative assessments to guide instruction in a small, urban district

Deborah I Nelson, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Large-Scale Formative Assessments (LSFAs) are currently being implemented in districts and states across the nation. Policymakers hope that LSFAs will be more useful to teachers as instructional tools than existing large-scale accountability assessments, Unlike accountability assessments, LSFAs yield frequent, detailed data about individual students. Policymakers hope that teachers will use LSFA data to plan differentiated instruction that addresses students' specific learning needs. Because LSFAs are in the early stages of implementation, there is little research documenting their effects. This is a qualitative study that uses methods of grounded theory to look at teachers' use of LSFA data in a small urban district that has implemented an LSFA as part of a comprehensive reform aimed at improving instruction and student achievement in early literacy. In particular, I look at whether and how first-grade teachers in three low-performing schools use LSFA data to make instructional decisions about individual students. Data include 25 teacher interviews, 12 interviews with school-level instructional leaders, 6 interviews with district officials, district documents, examples of student work, and observations of professional development opportunities in each school. Findings suggest that LSFAs are more useful to teachers as instructional tools than accountability assessments, but not in the ways that policymakers expect. Teachers rarely look to LSFA data as a source of information about individual students' learning needs. Instead, teachers value the LSFA as a source of clear student learning goals and they value LSFA data as a source of accountability for teaching practice. LSFAs influence teachers to focus explicitly and persistently on assessed skills and struggling students---practices that existing research suggests may be linked to improved student achievement in early literacy. LSFAs do not appear to influence teachers to differentiate instruction in the absence of professional development that builds teachers' knowledge of the classroom management and instructional strategies necessary to do so. ^

Subject Area

Education, Tests and Measurements|Education, Administration

Recommended Citation

Deborah I Nelson, "Data can't drive instruction, but they make a good map: Teachers' use of large -scale formative assessments to guide instruction in a small, urban district" (January 1, 2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3211122.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3211122

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