“The best designed assessment with the most reliable and valid measurement administered by the best trained assessor won’t change a child’s reading trajectory…unless someone in the child’s life does something different.”

—Rathvon, N. (2008). Effective school interventions. Strategies for enhancing academic achievement and social competence. (2nd edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

Why Use Data to Differentiate Instruction?

howdodata?How do data help administrators, teachers, and parents know what do, or do differently, to help students learn? Watch this from Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

Differentiated Instruction, Accelerated Success

The process of using data to differentiate instruction is central to our model. Literacy How Mentors participate in data teams, with the goal of creating effective instruction for every child.  Our Mentors help educators use data to uncover the right “something different” for every child who needs to turn a learning curve to catch up. Our Mentors work with school personnel—principals, literacy coaches, grade level teachers, special education, speech and language, and ELL teachers, and interventionists—to select the most effective assessments and to use and interpret the data appropriately. Mentors help teachers group students, plan, develop, and deliver properly paced, small group lessons, and monitor student progress.

Mrs. B.Follow Ms. Bullen’s Data-Rich Year step-by-step, DQC’s example of how teachers, principals, coaches, tutors, and parents use data to drive instructional success.

research_iconRead Turning the Curve on Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: K-3 Reading Assessment Pilot Study, to learn more about the mCLASS reading 3D assessment being used in some Connecticut schools.

The Health Care Analogy

The concept of using data to improve outcomes, whether students’ reading achievement, business profits, or wellness, is well established. Measurement is essential to accountability! The National Center on Response to Intervention offers this analogy:

  • High blood pressure (HBP) can lead to heart attacks or strokes (like academic failure can produce serious, long-term negative consequences).
  • At the annual check-up (primary prevention), HBP screening takes place (like annual fall screening for low reading or math scores).
  • If screening suggests HBP, then monitoring over 6-8 weeks occurs to verify HBP (like progress monitoring to confirm or disconfirm risk).
  • If HBP is verified, secondary prevention occurs with relatively inexpensive diuretics, which are effective for the vast majority of patients, and monitoring continues (like small group Tier 2 tutoring, using a standard treatment protocol, with progress monitoring to index response).
  • For patients who fail to respond to secondary prevention (diuretics), then tertiary prevention occurs—experimentation with more expensive medications (e.g., ACE inhibitors, beta blockers) with ongoing monitoring, to determine which drug or combination of drugs is effective (like Tier 3 programs which provide fine tuned, individualized, intensive instruction).

Who Does What?*

Different Instructional Decisions, Different Data


*Allain, J.K. & Eberhardt, N.C.  (2011).  RTI: The forgotten tier.  A practical guide for building a data-driven tier 1 instructional process. Stockton, KS: Rowe Publishing and Design. Table 3.3, p. 32.

Are We Speaking the Same Language?

Data Terminology

RTI (Response to Intervention) “is a practice of (1) providing high-quality instructional/intervention matched to student needs and (2) using learning rate over time and level of performance to (3) make important education decisions” (National Research Center on Learning Disabilities).  In Connecticut, we use the term SRBI (Scientific Research-Based Interventions). View the SRBI assessment model.

Standardized means that an assessment must be administered and scored according to specific rules to yield meaningful results.

Fidelity means that an assessment is given consistently, exactly according to the administration protocol. Teachers must be proficient in the task that they are administering (e.g., phoneme segmentation)!

Reliability means that the same assessment given to the same student will yield consistent results at that point in time time.

Validity means that the construct being assessed is well defined and the instrument used measures it appropriately.  Reading comprehension is a complex construct compared with phoneme awareness, phonics or fluency.

assessments_iconDimensions and Types of Assessment

Some assessments can serve several purposes.  In order to choose the most valid assessment, however, it’s important to determine the reason/s for collecting data.

Summative assessments are given to all students to ascertain attainment “of” academic goals once instruction has been completed.  Examples are mandated, high stakes tests and unit tests.

Formative assessments drive instruction “for” individual students throughout the year and are given as instruction is occurring.  Universal screenings of all students serve as “first alerts” and may include follow-up screening for students who are at risk.   Progress monitoring creates “growth charts” and is used to plan individualized instruction for students at risk.  Diagnostic assessments provide in-depth views of performance for all students for instruction and intervention. They are most closely aligned to instruction.

Norm-referenced (standardized) tests compare students’ performance against that of a population of the same age or grade-level.

Criterion-referenced tests compare performance with a set benchmark or cut score established through careful analysis or testing, not with other students.

Formal assessments are standardized, typically high-stakes tests that can be either criterion- or norm-referenced.

Informal assessments describe individual performance based on learning goals.  These are typically low-stake tests, such as checklists, teacher observations, and miscue analysis.

What is Quality Data?

According to The Data Quality Campaign, quality data shares several key characteristics—it’s actionable, contextual, longitudinal, interoperable.


Recommended Resources

Data literacy is a process! Here are books we pull from our shelves and websites we frequent as we strive to put effective data-driven differentiated instruction into practice.


  • Allain, J.K. & Eberhardt, N.C.  (2011).  RTI: The forgotten tier.  A practical guide for building a data-driven tier 1 instructional process. Stockton, KS:  Rowe Publishing and Design.
  • Boudett, K.P. et al.  (2008).  Data wise.  A step-by-step guide to using assessment results to improve teaching and learning.  
  • Diamond, L. (2008).  Assessing reading. Multiple measures.(2nd edition). CORE (Consortium of Reading Excellence, Inc.)  Novato, CA:  Arena Press.
  • Farrall, M.L. (2012) Reading assessment:  Linking language, literacy and cognition. Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Ganske, Kathy. (2000.) Word journeys: Assessment-guided phonics, spelling, and vocabulary. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • McKenna, M.C. & Stahl, K.A.D. (2008). Assessment for reading instruction. (2nd edition). New York, NY:  The Guilford Press.
  • Rathvon, N.  (2004).  Early reading assessment.  New York, NY:  The Guilford Press.
  • Walpole, S. & McKenna, M.C. (2007). Differentiated reading instruction. Strategies for the primary grades. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Walpole, S. & McKenna, M.C. (2009). How to plan differentiated reading instruction: Resources for grades K-3. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


  • AIMS web is “a complete web-based solution for universal screening, progress monitoring, and data management for Grades K-12.”
  • CBM now offers a CBM discussion group for teachers.
  • Data Quality Campaign “supports state policy makers and other key leaders to promote the effective use of data to improve student achievement.”
  • Center for Response to Intervention at American Institutes for Research provides resources and webinars about RTI implementation.
  • DIBELS  and DIBELS Next provides free downloads of student assessment and progress monitoring materials, and a data-entry and analysis system for $1/student.
  • Easy CBM “is an enhanced district assessment system designed by researchers at the University of Oregon as an integral part of an RTI (Response to Intervention) model.”
  • Florida Center for Reading Research
  • Intervention Central offers academic interventions for writing, reading fluency, and reading comprehension.
  • The IRIS Center Peabody College Vanderbilt University provides modules on various aspects of assessment, including progress monitoring.
  • Lexia Learning “is a research-proven, technology-based approach [that] accelerates reading skills development, predicts students’ year-end performance and provides teachers data-driven action plans to help differentiate instruction.”

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