Taking Control of Your Data

Categories: Data

Data, data everywhere!

I LOVE data. I love valid, authentic and reliable data. Nothing gives me a better understanding of my students and their needs. But let me be real with you, the amount of data a special education teacher has to deal with can be simply overwhelming. Fluency data, progress monitoring data, district and state testing, DTT scores, adaptive skill charting, independent functioning charting, FBA, BIP and ABC behavior data is constantly going, IEP goals are forever being monitored, and more. I know that if I don’t keep it all organized, I struggle with using that data I worked hard to get. Here’s how I tame the data monster and keep everything organized.

Know Your Needs.

Think about each student and the data you’ll need to collect for each of them. Find or create a data sheet that will work for each set of data you’ll collect. I highly recommend using The Autism Helper’s Data Sheets. They are customizable for just about any situation you’ll collect data for.

When data doesn’t have a set score and is subjective, like social skills, create a rubric for scoring students. This keeps your data reliable and authentic. It turns a subjective score into an objective score. Other staff in your classroom will be able to collect data, too, because they understand the scoring method and how you are collecting data. The Autism Helper has AMAZING Social Skill Rubrics for you, ready to go (and make writing social skill goals a snap!).

Data Binders are Life.

These data binders make me ridiculously happy. Inside I have almost every piece of student data I collect. My classroom is completely color-coded. Each student is assigned a color and their data binders are color-coded, too. When it’s time to write an IEP or complete progress reports, I have all of the data I need at my fingertips. After experimenting with different data organization systems, I can highly suggest keeping data together by student. I found that when I kept data by topic, I would have to go through file after file to gather data on one student. It was cumbersome to say the least. I include current data on all ABA program data (mastered and current), district testing, and progress monitoring in the Present Levels of my IEPs. Since I typically write IEPs at home, I wanted something I could grab and go. It also allows me to bring the data with me to IEP meetings. That way if any question comes up, I can IMMEDIATELY show the IEP team the data I’ve collected.

Get Organized.

Get yourself one binder per student. Count how many sets of data you collect for each student, and grab some tab dividers for your binder. I use these erasable tab dividers so I can re-use them year to year. My color-coded binders make it easy to re-use them, too, since they aren’t labeled with student names (I’m all about shortcuts). All of my binders were purchased at Wal-Mart for $0.88 or Dollar Tree. We are going for functional here. You don’t need anything fancy. Label your dividers with each data set you are collecting, and if needed, label your binders with student names.

This is one of my data binders with all of the assessments I collect through the year. I have separate ABA/DTT binders for each student where I collect current ABA data and mastered ABA programs.

Keep Data Sheets Accessible.

If it’s hard to get to or do, you won’t do it. Brainstorm with the staff in your classroom and determine where the best location to keep data collection sheets would be. I have 9 students, and I collect on-going behavior data on all 9 of them. To tackle that monster, I asked my assistants where they thought we should keep the data collection clipboards. We decided to hang the ABC charts we use for data collection outside of the student’s work space. It makes it super easy to grab ‘in the moment’ during behaviors. I keep fluency data sheets on a clipboard with my fluency cart. We keep extra ABA data sheets inside each child’s ABA binder so we never run out. I keep Edmark recording books with all of my reading supplies. Whatever you do, get those data sheets accessible so you lessen the burden of collecting data. There’s nothing worse than attempting to find a data sheet when you are ready to record data.

Each week we take a few minutes to restock our clipboards and binders with data sheets so we never run out.

Graph your Data.

You need visuals, too. Consider graphing your data. I know this sounds daunting, but I’d encourage you to just try it. It’s easy to do in in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. If you use Google Forms to collect your data, you are already a step ahead! By graphing your data, you can instantly see what is working and what isn’t. Plus when you show data and your graphs at IEP meetings, you and the IEP team can instantly see student progress and areas that need improvement. Nothing makes me happier than seeing that line graph go up, up, up showing student growth.

To create a graph in Excel, put the date in one column, and the data in the next column. Highlight all of the information you’ve added, and click ‘charts’ and ‘line’ to create a line graph. In Google Sheets, highlight your data, then click ‘insert’ then ‘chart’. You can then choose a line chart to show the data you’ve collected. Once this is set up, it only takes 5 minutes to stay on top of. I graph once a week to stay current. All graphs are then printed, then placed in my data binders.

Have a One-Touch Data Rule.

Have you heard of the one-touch paper rule? It basically says, once you touch a paper, you need to deal with it right then. File it, deal with it, toss it… do whatever you need with it RIGHT THEN. The same goes for my one-touch data rule. Once you have data, deal with it right then. Don’t put it on your desk. Don’t leave it in a pile. Put it away right then. Half the battle of this is knowing where the data going, so having your data binders set up is crucial. Having your staff know where data goes is also key. In my classroom my assistants (who are ah-maz-ing!) are responsible for collecting data. They all know where each data collection sheet goes when they are finished collecting data. I have a data collection bin in my classroom for any data collected that does not go in my data binders. Also, keep your data binders organized. In your data binders, put current data on top, so you always have the most recent data at your fingertips.

Use your Data.

You spent all this time collecting and organizing data, now it’s time to use it. So many teachers wait until it’s time to report on goals to review data. If this is you, it’s time to make a change. Every time you have a question about a student and their progress, refer to the data. Have a question and you are unsure of the answer? Start collecting data on it.  Set aside a specific time each week to review student data before planning for the next week. Brief assistants on trends you are seeing with each student. Celebrate accomplishments and address struggles. By looking at the data regularly you’ll be in-tune with your students on a whole new level. When it comes time to report on student goals, you’ll know EXACTLY where your students are.

Taming the data monster takes some work up front, but by creating a system to keep data collection accessible and functional, you’ll make data your best friend rather than a monster that takes over your classroom.

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. Hi! I have a question about how to calculate average scores for quarterly progress reports. When reviewing data and determining an average to report do you recommend finding the average % of ALL data points taken that quarter? Or would you just average the most current data points? (If so how many do you suggest are included?)

  2. Great question, and one that you need to clarify with district policies. Many of the masterminds behind standard based grading, including Rick Wormeli, would argue that you’d use the most current data points as the most accurate reflection of what a child knows. However, not every district who uses SBRC does this. I highly recommend checking out his book Fair Isn’t Always Equal and his website for more SBRC resources and guidance on grading https://www.rickwormeli.com/resources-1. But, in the end, it comes down to district policy. Even if your district does use SBRC this way, you may find that grading in special education has different rules and requirements that you are required to follow for reporting on progress reports.

  3. What are your labels on the tabs on the inside of your notebooks?

    • Hey Tammie! The tab labels are different tests (e.g., Writing Without Tears, PEAK, Bracken, etc.)

  4. Hi Tammie,
    I’m new to this site. I’m the mother of a 14 year old boy who is autistic and mostly non verbal. I know the reason he’s been acting out hitting, pinching and throwing things is either: physical pain or mental pain. He’s had trouble since his father and I separated almost 4 years ago and last spring he went residential during the school week and comes home on weekends. Through my own experience I found out that if I see him more often say for dinner at his residence twice a week instead of one he’s much better on the weekend when he goes home to his dads. His dad doesn’t do this so my weekends are very hard. I don’t know why the school gives me such a hard time. Sometimes I don’t know what’s going on but after time with him I just know. He needs to know that he’ll see me at least a couple days a week and their fighting me on this thinking it’s puberty or I’m just not thinking the ABA way rather like a mother with maternal instincts. He’s at a wonderful private school in Massachusetts but sometimes I feel like I’m emailing, calling and constant for nothing. I think I can help and they have to go through their motions . I understand but if I find out they made him go the long way I don’t know what I’ll say. I’ll be so angry . He’s my sweet affectionate loving wonderful boy who is going through puberty not living with his mom after me being home with him his entire life. His father is just awful and since I left fights me when he never cared about his medical appointments or education when we were together. Do you see that a lot with divorced parents of kids with autism ? I feel he’s used by my ex in this divorce as a pawn to hurt me.

  5. What kind are the binders and clipboards you use? Where to purchase them?

    • The binders are your standard 1-inch or 1.5-inch 3-ring binder and the clipboards are standard clipboards. You can buy them at any office supply store!


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