Tag Archives: tracking student progress

A Teacher’s Guide: Using Data to Drive Your Instruction

As educators, we hear that popular buzz phrase all the time: “Use your data to drive your instruction.”  I don’t know about you, but whenever I heard that phrase, I would completely agree:

  • Yes!  I want my teaching to be more rigorous!
  • Yes!  I want to be purposeful and intentional with my instruction!
  • Yes!  I know my data can help me do that!

But then I would stop and really think about how that would look in my classroom and I found myself with lots of questions:

  • Okay, but WHAT data should drive my instruction?
  • Where am I driving my instruction anyway?
  • What does that look like in my classroom?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with data.  On one hand, I know there is power and insight in it.  When I had quarterly data chats with my admin and weekly data discussions with my PLC, I could see the value and bounty that data could bring to my instructional practices.  But when my administrators left and my PLC went back to their own classrooms, I was often left looking at a spreadsheet and trying to reconcile how in the world it even mattered in my lesson plans.  My biggest issue with using data to drive my instruction was that, often times, the data came too late.  It was after we had moved on in our unit or even after our unit had finished, so in order for me to go in and reteach, I was having to jump out of sequential order of my instructional calendar.  I would get quiz results or benchmark assessments back and think, “How am I going to go back and teach central idea of nonfiction texts when I’ve already moved on to character analysis in fiction writing?!”

And that’s when ClassMax was born.

As an educator, we know our students well enough to know when they are struggling with a concept.  But what do we do with that knowledge?  It isn’t DATA, but, darn it, I’ve seen that kid struggle and I know they aren’t mastering the topic yet.  With ClassMax, teachers are able to quantify what they see in their classrooms, turning those 100 times a day when we think to ourselves, “Matthew is really struggling,” or “Claire needs some extra help with that skill” into actual, reportable data right there on the spot.  No waiting for a test score.  No waiting even for an exit ticket at the end of the period to tell me what I’m already going to know.  I create my own data as I teach. 

It is in this instantaneous, organic data collection that using data to drive instruction can really come to life.

Let’s look at a real example.  Let’s say that I just taught a lesson on the water cycle to my 2nd grade class (P.S. In real life, I was a middle school Language Arts teacher, so if I botch this example, just go with it…).  I teach my awesome lesson and then turn my students loose with some sort of academic task.  As they are working, I am walking through the room, answering questions and collecting data through the progress monitoring feature of ClassMax.  I can assess an entire class of students in under two minutes with ClassMax.  TWO MINUTES.  Which means that in two minutes, I have quantifiable data to drive my instruction.

So, I have assessed my students and now, merely five minutes into their assignment, I have data to use to drive my instruction.  I’m going to run a report on the standard I am tracking right there on the spot as my students are working.

Here’s the standard I am teaching (I realize this is a language arts standard, but we are wearing our imagination hats, right?  Go with it…).  If I click the standard, it is going to show me who is where on their progress.  And, remember, this is from the data I just collected five minutes ago.  It’s fresh meat, teacher friends.  In less then five minutes, I have assessed my students and now have the data in my hand so immediately drive my instruction.

From that two minute data collection in class, I can immediately start addressing learning needs during my lesson – not after the fact.  I know that I should probably go sit one-on-one with my red student because she is struggling more than her classmates.  I know that I should probably pull my yellow scoring students into a small group for a little reteaching or to clarify some misunderstandings.  I even know who is wasting their time by doing the current assignment and is already ready to move into an enrichment activity.

THAT is using data to drive instruction, teacher friends.  It is collecting realtime data in your classroom from what you are seeing and hearing as an education professional and then immediately using that data to change how you are reaching students.  There is no waiting for quiz or test results to come back.  There is no analysis in a big spreadsheet.  There is no creating separate lessons.  It is simple assessing students where they are and adapting your instructional practices accordingly, in realtime.

While assessment data is highly valuable in a classroom and should not be replaced or undervalued, ClassMax allows for an additional layer of assessing that is teacher-driven and instantaneous.  It is a powerful tool to have in your hands, teacher friends.  What will you do with it?


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Tracking Your Own Teaching Using ClassMax

The primary functions of ClassMax allow teachers to track multiple types of information about student data.  But in the two years that I have been using ClassMax in my own classroom, I have learned how to use ClassMax to track my own standards-based instruction to assure that I am covering all my standards effectively.  This is especially important at this point in the school year, as we begin looking towards standardized testing. I want to be sure that I have taught each specifically tested standard enough and that I haven’t overlooked any standards during the course of my school year.  

To do this, head over to the Reporting section of ClassMax. From here, I run a report for all my classes by choosing “Multiple Periods,” and then selecting all my class periods. I set the window of my report either to the entire previous quarter or for the entire school year.  I tend to prefer the school year because I teach language arts and my standards often repeat throughout the quarter. If your standards are more sequential (for example, in a math class), you may choose to only select a specific period of time.

From here, I start to see the progress of my instruction based on my student data.  The first thing I look for is that I have taught all the tested standards. I double check to make sure that every standard I was supposed to have covered is listed in my report.  If it is not listed, that means that I never collected data on that particular standard, which indicates I may not have taught it or maybe didn’t teach it enough. I add those standards to my reteaching list.  

The next thing I do in my report is to begin drilling down by standard.  If I notice a standard has a lot of gray on the scale, I add this to my reteaching list.  Clearly, I didn’t teach it enough to collect a decent amount of data and so I will probably need to reteach that standard a bit more before testing.  

Finally, I start clicking on individual standards to see the number of times I have assessed on it.  When you click the standard and bar graph, it will drop down to show you which students are performing where.  The number at the top of each student list is the number of times this standard was assessed. If the number is low across all learning levels on a particular standard, I know that I may not have assessed it enough, which also probably indicates that I didn’t teach it enough.  These standards get added to my reteaching list, too.

While ClassMax is an excellent tool for collecting student data, that student data can tell you a lot about your own teaching.  By analyzing HOW I collect my data, I can better examine how well I taught standards throughout my school year. This helps me begin to focus my reteaching as we prepare for testing.  

Marzano and ClassMax

Raise your hand if you work in a Marzano district.

(My hand is raised.)

Raise your hand if you work in a district that does formal teacher observations.

(My hand is raised.)

Raise your hand if you are required at some level to track where your students are on standards.

(My hand is raised.)

My hand is raised for all of those and I’m sure a lot of your hands were raised, too.  Part of any teacher’s role these days is to track standards-based student performance (Marzano Element 2).  Effective teachers know that it’s more than just standing up and teaching now.  Rigorous teaching requires monitoring and tracking of student progress in order to drive our instruction.


In a classroom of 22+ kids, it is darn near impossible for me to track every student’s performance on any of the 2-4 standards I am teaching during any given class period.  I needed something quick and efficient to help me out.  I made a modified, much simpler version of ClassMax to use on my own iPad during instruction last year in my classroom and began to use that as I taught.  Whenever my administrators came into my classroom and saw me tracking progress instantly on every student, I always earned either an Effective or Innovating score in the area of tracking student progress.  This was the central need that led me to create ClassMax.

At the start of your school day, you go into the standards area on the sidebar of the dashboard and select the standards you are teaching for the day.  Standards are now Common Core, but individual state standards will continue to be added as the school year goes on.

Once you have selected the standards you are planning to teach that day in class, those standards are saved and will appear every time you call up a student profile that day.  The standards reset at midnight so that you begin the next school day with a clean slate.

This is when the tracking component comes into play.  You know all those times as a teacher when we are circulating the room, observing, listening, and assisting students?  That’s when you are using ClassMax.  I carried my iPad, phone, or even my laptop some days around the room with me as I circulated and marked students as I went.  I could mark every student on a particular standard in under 2 minutes.  It was incredible.  And it made the most of my class time, too.  These days, as classrooms become more student-driven, teachers often feel a little like drifters, floating around the room, waiting for someone who needs our help.  With ClassMax, I was not only maximizing my student’s time in the classroom, but I was maximizing my own time in the classroom, too.  Now, I was actually taking the time to track student progression that I observed, not just what they were able to perform on an assessment.

ClassMax even gives you a little note box so that you can write any observations you make or want to remember later.  I didn’t always use these (especially if time was limited), but it is helpful for when you are reflecting on your teaching (Marzano Domain 3)!  Be sure to mention that in your post-conference with your administrator!).

One step that our ClassMax team developed after I showed them my prototype was in adding the grouping feature to this tracking.  Let’s say I observe a group that is really rocking something – or maybe is struggling.  I can save myself time by selecting their group from the dashboard and I can assign their progress tracking to the entire group, instead of having to do this one student at a time.  And if you use this information later to form groups, that’s another Marzano element for grouping strategies (Element 15)!

When I am planning my next lesson or looking ahead to differentiate instruction (let’s see how many buzz words I can use in one blog post, shall we?), I simply run a report and I can see all the standards tracking that I have done for a student.

ClassMax doesn’t invent new ways to be an effective teacher.  Instead, it takes what we are already doing in rigorous, effective classrooms all over the country and streamlines the process so that within three simple clicks, we are able to better serve our students.

I am in preplanning this week and I can’t count the number of times my principal and administration have said “tracking student progress” already.  And every time I hear it, I chuckle and think to myself, “There’s an app for that…  And I made it!”

Best wishes for a wonderful school year, teacher friends!

Katie Brown

8th Grade Language Arts Teacher and ClassMax Founder