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Principals, school administrators and other key stakeholders must interpret data with caution and understanding. Initially, it is important that those reviewing the data understand exactly what information is reported and how to access and understand that data. When reviewing the data for students with disabilities, it is important to understand what type of information is available, what type of accommodations did each student receive and what scores/tests were not included in the report. Examples of test scores not reported could be students that took an alternative assessment or in some cases, tests that resulted in a non-standard administration. It is critical that those reviewing the high stakes testing data understand what information was reported in the report and what information was not provided in order to fully understand the reporting system.

The recommendations for reviewing the data include looking for the expected results, look for the unexpected results and look for any error patterns that can be established among students. It should also be noted that most states and some districts only report the two elements that are required by law. Professionals reviewing the data should identify how many students with disabilities took the test and the performance scores of those students. Lastly, administrators should investigate the percentage of students based on categorical eligibility and/or the number of students taking the assessment by disability category.

When comparing data, such as the effectiveness of a specific school improvement plan, it is critical to understand which type of comparison is being used or how to analyze the data in three different ways. One way to analyze the data is by looking at the same grade (a single grade) over several years, such as from 5th-8th grade. Another way is to review the data of several grade levels within the same school year, such as graphing the performance of 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade. Lastly, administrators may choose to analyze multiple groups in multiple years, such as students with disabilities, second language learners, or by ethnicity. Since there are several ways in which data can be reported, principals, key stakeholders, and other administrators must understand what data is being reported clearly.

I particularly found it interesting to read the section about cautions or pitfalls when analyzing data. For example, is an administration team is reviewing the data of students with disabilities over three years. Yet, the highest performing students may have exited the special education program, and conversely low performing students became eligible for special education services, then the data can be skewed. The group that took the assessment in the subcategory of “students with disabilities” may have changed significantly over the years, which makes the data more difficult to analyze and draw conclusions.    

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