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interpreting data

June 8, 2013


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With exam marking and moderation saturating our week at school, data leaked from both students and teachers:

  • Anxiety rose/ stress levels increased
  • Meeting rooms were in high demand from lone markers/ sushi and lolly-consuming students
  • Similar habits were apparent in both the exam room and staff collegiate area (sighs, stretching, glassy stares into the distance, muttered outbursts, frenzied pencil sharpening)
  • Chatter levels swelled during breaks.


Also interesting are the results from both my study-floor-paper-midden, and the insights threading discussions:

  • Highly creative expression among Year 8s thanks to focus on poetic language
  • Year 10s oblivious to the requirements of analytical thinking (need to revisit in Semester Two)
  • Year 12s under-prepared for an exam demanding more than personalised summary or faux argument construction.

How best to share this feedback?


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For me, recognition is emerging from what was once a puzzle.

Here’s our exam marking guide:

Students’ pre-exam fears are explained by where  X failed to hit/ met/ exceeded their personal mark.

Attending a mid-week WACE English network meeting where teachers from different schools reaffirmed ties, evaluated exemplars, and discussed marking expectations proved an invaluable filter and measure of relative worth. Viewing section? Yes, we agreed the selected images were likely to yield superficial interpretations. The two questions, though, afforded scope for able readers.

Students’ journal reflections assessed last week along with a Teacher Report rubric evaluating my approach in our English class this semester revealed a hairline disconnect between goals/ expectations and students’ assumptions/experience.


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This is why assessment is the central process in instruction. Students do not learn what we teach. If they did, we would not need to keep gradebooks. We would, instead, simply record what we have taught (Wiliam, 2011, p. 47-8).

While means, grades and standard deviations are recorded on the  – open in tab browser – page where I’m currently finalising data entry for Reporting to Parents, individual students are becoming known, complex quantities to me.  In order to assess, and only if we know

…the whole child in order to put a FACE to the learning data- [can] we humanize him or her fully and be reminded that we [are] talking about real kids with real hopes and dreams.
Good teachers spend time getting to know their learners academically and socially-emotionally… (Sharrat & Fullan, 2012, p. 65).

Our collegiate discussions around marking papers this week revealed

The process of using data to identify the learner-centred problem is an iterative, inquiry-based process. The questions raised by your data overview should lead to further investigation of the data, which inevitably leads to new questions and investigations. Recognizing both the messiness and the richness of this process… shows how to use data wisely… (Mintz, Fiarman & Buffett, 2006, p. 83).


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Curves ahead?

  • Ongoing review of our students’ Humanities exam performance in light of other evidence
  • Discussion with colleagues in Maths/ Science to cross-check findings/ compare results
  • Evaluate our approach to inform refinements (3 subject tests allocated in one day became a bellwether of concern for Year 8s)
  • Modify curriculum plans for Semester Two based on what we now know
  • Consider feedback from students (Noteworthy – my Year 10s claim exams are boring, like coming to school on a wet Monday morning)
  • Keep in mind that “we cannot predict what students will learn, no matter how we design our teaching” (Wiliams, 2011, p. 46).

Selected references

Mintz, E., Fiarman, S.E. & Buffett, T. (2006). Digging into data. In Boudett, K.P., City, E.A. & Murnane, R.J. (Eds.) Data wise: A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Sharratt, L. & Fullan, M. (2012). Putting faces on the data: What great leaders do! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wiliams, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Recommended reading: Transforming through Student Engagement

Recommended context to learning: EduTech conference and HistEd Chat.

photo credit: <a href=””>Adam_T4</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=””>Orin Zebest</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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