CORAdvantage Blog Effective Practice

Using Data to Guide Instruction

By David Sall | March 11, 2019

The most effective teachers regularly tailor learning experiences to their students’ prior knowledge and development. But in the early childhood context, students develop quickly and at wildly different rates. This can make it difficult for early childhood educators to effectively scaffold new skills and concepts for young learners.

How can teachers meet children at their developmental level and help them build the right knowledge and skills at the right time?

That’s where regularly collecting, reviewing, and analyzing indicators of children’s developmental progress comes in. Educators who make formative assessment a staple of their practice can use data to improve learning outcomes for all students.

Collect the Right Data

A teacher’s ability to tailor learning experiences is only possible with useful, accurate, student-learning data. In order to collect that data, it is important to choose an assessment that provides more than a one-off snapshot of student performance. Ongoing formative assessments are ideal because they do not have many of the constraints these one-off, performance-based assessments have. Ongoing assessment provides teachers with a way to regularly collect data on child development, and provides children with multiple opportunities to show what they are capable of.

In early childhood, observation-based assessments are especially appropriate because they enable teachers to collect evidence of child development throughout the day in an authentic environment. Children are always demonstrating their skills and knowledge, and the right observation-based assessment assists educators in translating such moments into meaningful data.

Programs using a whole-child curriculum find an observation-based assessment particularly helpful, as many of the domains these curricula support are not easily assessed through performance tasks. For example, the true reflection of a child’s social-emotional development is most visible through their interactions with peers or adults. Through observing these interactions, teachers can accurately track growth and development in this domain.

Create Small Groups Based on Developmental Level

While collecting authentic, valid data is a crucial step for teachers, the power of using data comes in the ways teachers reflect on and analyze that data. Data might indicate that the entire class can benefit from additional support in one area. Or it might indicate that there are differences in the developmental levels among children in a particular learning domain.

Analyzing data in this way empowers teachers to create differentiated small groups that allow for more tailored learning for all children. To create small groups, teachers start by choosing a specific domain to support. Since children often develop at different rates by domain — children’s fine motor skills do not necessarily correlate with their literacy skills — it is important to focus on one area of developmental data.

Teachers then sort children into small groups based on level. This may mean sorting children into groups who have similar skill level. For example, a teacher might sort children into below-, at-, and above-age level groups based on fine motor assessment data. Teachers can then plan instructional activities tailored to the developmental level that each child in the group shares. Differentiated groups like this allow for a teacher to conference with a specific group of children and provide support that is relevant to each group member. Alternatively, teachers may include a few children of each ability level in each group, with more advanced children mentoring the other children. This allows for children to be involved in the teaching process as well.

Assessment data can be used for so much more than holding students and educators accountable. Effective teachers regularly use assessment data as part of their planning process. When students receive the support they need based on their own knowledge and skills, learning outcomes improve!

A magical backpack of learning with school supplies, planets, and a spaceship flying out of it

Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter

In partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter is a twice a month collection of topical research articles, tips for educators, and unique ways COR Advantage can support the documentation and communication of child development.

Subscribe to our newsletter
HighScope COR Advantage

About COR Advantage

COR Advantage is HighScope’s flagship observation-based assessment. COR Advantage is the leading research-backed assessment for all children from birth to kindergarten. From comprehensive planning tools to dynamic family engagement, COR Advantage offers a complete picture of child growth for schools and families.

About David Sall

David Sall is Vice President of School Partnerships for COR Advantage. Prior to working in early childhood education, he taught middle school history in Chicago. David holds Master in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.