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Leaders of Their Own Learning: Chapter 3: Using Data with Students

How does using data give students ownership of their learning?

Created By

EL Education

Teachers and school leaders everywhere collect and analyze data to make informed decisions about instruction that will support all students in meeting standards. However, in many schools, the power of data to improve student achievement is not fully leveraged because students are left out of the process. The most powerful determinants of student growth are the mindsets and learning strategies that students themselves bring to their work—how much they care about working hard and learning, how convinced they are that hard work leads to growth, and how capably they have built strategies to focus, organize, remember, and navigate challenges.

Using data with students encompasses classroom practices that build students’ capacity to access, analyze, and use data effectively to reflect, set goals, and document growth enable students to:

  • Use their classwork as a source for data, analyzing strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to improve their work.
  • Regularly analyze evidence of their own progress. They track their progress on assessments and assignments, analyze their errors for patterns, and describe what they see in the data about their current level of performance.
  • Use data to set goals and reflect on their progress over time and incorporate data analysis into student-led conferences.


Created By

EL Education

Teachers and school leaders everywhere collect and analyze data to make informed decisions about instruction that will support all students in meeting standards. However, in many schools, the power of data to improve student achievement is not fully leveraged because students are left out of the process. The most powerful determinants of student growth are the mindsets and learning strategies that students themselves bring to their work—how much they care about working hard and learning, how convinced they are that hard work leads to growth, and how capably they have built strategies to focus, organize, remember, and navigate challenges.

Using data with students encompasses classroom practices that build students’ capacity to access, analyze, and use data effectively to reflect, set goals, and document growth enable students to:

  • Use their classwork as a source for data, analyzing strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to improve their work.
  • Regularly analyze evidence of their own progress. They track their progress on assessments and assignments, analyze their errors for patterns, and describe what they see in the data about their current level of performance.
  • Use data to set goals and reflect on their progress over time and incorporate data analysis into student-led conferences.


When students are equipped to analyze data for their own learning, whether from large-scale summative assessments or daily formative assessments, the power of data as an engine for growth is centered where it has the greatest potential to improve learning—with students. from Chapter 3, Leaders of Their Own Learning

Learning Targets

  1. I can identify at least two entry points for creating a data culture in my classroom.
  2. I can describe what sources of data will be most useful for students

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Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment. Copyright 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Review: Focusing the Data Inquiry

Integrating student use of data into classroom routines is a long-term process. It is important to start small. Rather than flooding the classroom with data, design a focused data routine that can be expanded and supplemented over time. The figure below represents a typical data-inquiry cycle in the classroom.

Figure 3.1 from page 106 Leaders of Their Own Learning

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Choosing what data to investigate is one of the key questions you will face. Not all data are equally suited to inquiry with students. The following guidelines will help ensure that the data you use with students are useful:

  • Keep standards at the forefront—data collection should be in service of meeting standards.
  • Begin with quantifiable data—for teachers new to this practice, a simple maxim applies: find something to count.
  • Choose a recurrent data source—effective data investigation involves comparison between where students start and where they are at different intervals, so it’s important to choose a data source that can be measured multiple times.
  • Make the data matter—ensure that what you count is worthy of being counted.

Watch: Goal-Setting for Achievement in Reading

Watch the video Goal-Setting for Achievement in Reading and consider the following questions:

  1. Did the teacher follow the steps of the data inquiry cycle as described in the figure above? How do you think this process impacts her students?
  2. What was her data source? Did it meet the guidelines described above?
  3. Think about your own classroom? Do you have something to count? What’s a data source you and your students can begin using?

Review: Developing Systems and Structures for Data Collection

For any new routine to flourish in the classroom, teachers must create good systems to collect and store student data. Whether using simple forms, work folders, or computer-generated spreadsheets, teachers must provide a vehicle for students to collect data and make the time and space for them to make sense of this information. No matter the system, the outcomes are the same—students are prepared to become reflective learners, they can identify strengths and challenges, and they can set goals that enable them to meet standards.

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Watch: Students Own Their Progress

Watch the video Students Own Their Progress and consider the following questions:

  1. What overlaps do you see between students using data and other structures designed to communicate learning (e.g., student-led conferences, passage presentations)? What difference can students’ data literacy make in their ability to discuss their progress with families and teachers?
  2. The teachers in this classroom have created structures and routines for students to organize and analyze their data. What impact does this have on students?
  3. How would you describe the effect using data has had on level of ownership over their learning that students in this classroom have?

Dig Deeper

“Who’s in the Driver’s Seat” by Steven Levy:   Steven Levy doesn’t want high-stakes test data to be in the driver’s seat. Instead he wants to encourage schools to collect data that helps students assess their progress along all three dimensions of EL Education’s “Dimensions of Student Achievement”: Mastery of Knowledge and Skills; Character; and High-Quality Student Work.  

Learn with Two Rivers website:   Explore the Learn with Two Rivers Student-Led Conference Page, which includes resources for helping students learn how to talk about their data with their families.

Empowering Students with Data” by Kimberly Long:   Now that you understand the importance of putting data in the hands of your students, read about some practical steps a junior high school teacher took to help her students learn how to use it well.

Using Data PD Pack:  EL Education’s PD Pack on Using Data includes much more, including Data Culture, Using Student Work as Data, and Data Inquiry Cycles. 

Synthesize/Take Action

For Teachers…

  1. What can you do in your classroom to start putting meaningful data in the hands of your students?  How will you build a culture of safety for looking at data, build excitement for looking at data, and build students’ data literacy? Review The Who, What, and Why of Using Data with Students from Chapter 3 of Leaders of Their Own Learning and identify two entry points for your next steps.
  2. Is there a data source that would make sense for you to start with that is connected to standards, quantifiable, recurrent, and meaningful? Try to think outside the box. The sample error self-analysis forms on p. 110 in Chapter 3 of Leaders of Their Own Learning may give you some ideas.  
  3. What systems and structures will you build to help your students use data effectively? How will you make time during class for looking at data with your students??

For School Leaders…

Watch the video Schoolwide Structures for Using Data with Students and consider the following questions:

  1. What additional professional development or coaching do teachers need to successfully lift this practice off the ground? Who will provide it? When?
  2. How will you help teachers connect their data work with students to your schoolwide vision for quality and improvement?
  3. Do your families understand the data inquiry process at your school, especially as it connects to other student-engaged assessment structures, like student-led conferences? If not, how can you keep them well informed? What do they need to know?