How Data and Reports Improve Student Engagement and Inform Reading Instruction

In a recent edWebinar, Alistair Van Moere, Ph.D., Chief Product Officer for MetaMetrics, went in depth on how data and reports can improve student engagement and inform reading instruction. We sat down with Dr. Van Moere to dig deeper into the data conversation, and addressed questions that were asked during the presentation. 

Q: Data is a big topic of conversation in the education industry. Why are administrators more focused on data now than in the past?

A: K-12 education is becoming more data-driven, partly due to technology and how easy it is to capture, record, and share data. In addition, the educational community sees the benefits of data. We’ve come out of an era where we depended on subjective evaluations of students and sparse end-of-course grades, to a time when we are able to monitor more frequently, more objectively, where we can record that information, and subsequently set goals or allocate resources on the basis of it. 

 This is being driven at all levels of the education community. Teachers want to see data about their students’ progress, but districts and states also want data for accountability. Edtech products and test providers have responded by producing more fine-grained data and displaying it in handy dashboards for administrators, teachers, and even parents.

Q: It’s a loaded question, but how can data personalize learning and engage students during daily lessons?

A: Well, data doesn’t always engage students—teachersengage students! If the materials that students encounter are difficult, they are often intimidated and their engagement decreases. Likewise, if students find the materials easy, they can become bored. Data helps teachers target their lessons. I think we’re seeing some very effective use of mobile apps for polling or surveying a class of students, which provides teachers with a way to know whether they can keep going, or if they need to slow down and repeat.

 The area where students do consume data directly is when it comes in the form of direct and immediate feedback, particularly in interactive digital courseware or gamified learning applications. This kind of immediate, personalized data can be used much more effectively by students than graphs showing long-term trends or predictions about end-of-year exams.

Q: When it comes to literacy, what are the key data points educators should be looking at?

A: It’s simpler than you think. A key metric to keep an eye on is “time on task"; in other words, how many minutes of on-level reading students are doing every day. Ideally, ensure that students are reading at least 20 to 30 minutes daily, and that they are reading material that they understand and enjoy. This is important at all grade levels, but especially in the early grades. 

In grades 1–3, students typically make large gains of 250L every year, but by grades 6, 7, and 8, this slows to around 60L or 70L worth of gains every year. (The Lexile® Framework for Reading is an equal-interval scale, which means that 10L of learning gains represents the same amount of learning wherever it is on the scale, for example, whether that is 110L to 120L, or 910L to 920L.) We cannot afford to let students fall behind in those early grades, and daily, at-level reading is the single most important support for early readers.

Q: To piggyback off the last question, how can educators use data to ensure students aren’t falling behind? How have you seen data used to inform intervention?

AAbsolutely, benchmark tests and ongoing monitoring help educators see how a student is performing. The really good reading programs, which check and report on reading comprehension as students work through the material, will identify when a student is beginning to fall behind before the teacher notices it themselves, and so allows for intervention to take place sooner. 

A good assessment may also help diagnose where students are struggling; for example, whether it is with understanding factual information, vocabulary, following main ideas, or inferring. Once informed about it, educators can work on any of these areas to effectively develop the reading skills for a single student or group of students.

Q: From a webinar attendee: Is there a way to provide a student feedback without using all of the numbers and reading level info?

A: Reducing everything to a number may be seen as counter to the learning experience, which should be enriching and rewarding. Moreover, if students feel over-monitored or controlled, it might make them disengage. Teachers can avoid “giving a number” by providing micro-feedback on just the passages read and the skills students need to focus on. 

One problem with this approach, however, is that research shows that feedback is effective when students are working towards a goal that they are invested in, can see how they are doing relative to that goal, and can see how the feedback they are getting helps them progress towards that goal. A Lexile measure facilitates this by providing concrete college- and career-readiness targets, and growth paths towards those.

If you have considered this but are still hesitant to assign numeric reader measures to students, perhaps you could focus on Lexile measures not as a way to monitor or track students, but rather to match them to material that is appropriate for their reading skills. That is, their “reader number” is a handy metric like a “sleep number,” that allows them to find books that are at their level. 

Q: What are the top benefits to viewing real-time data compared to data collected during standardized tests?

A: I can’t emphasize enough the benefits of real-time data and feedback. The biggest benefits are: 1) increased student motivation; 2) improved learning outcomes; and 3) improved visibility for educators. 

When you get real-time feedback, every task becomes a learning opportunity, rather than a practice opportunity. I remember solving math equations on paper for homework when I was a kid. It probably improved my math fluency, but potential for learning was curbed—if I had made a mistake or misunderstood something, I would not have known about it until three days later when it was marked and returned to me.

As I mentioned in the webinar (please watch it if you haven’t yet!), there is convincing research that real-time feedback results in more effective learning outcomes. On-the-spot feedback is like going to a bowling alley and seeing the pins getting knocked down, then seeing your score displayed on the monitor next to your name. Now, imagine if you went bowling, but didn’t see how many pins you had knocked down until the following day or week! You would never improve your bowling technique. 

We can add to this the motivational benefits of finding out how you did right after you answered a question. (“Okay, I’m really going to try and get the next one right.”) Moreover, when educators inspect the data on every task the student has performed, they can begin to see patterns that they otherwise wouldn’t. This makes their interventions timelier and more targeted to the individual. 

Q: From a webinar attendee: My school doesn’t use Lexile measures. How can I test my student’s Lexile levels independently? Is there a free Lexile scoring website?

A:The only way for students to receive a Lexile measure is from an approved reading test or program, or from end-of-year tests in U.S. states that have adopted the Lexile Framework. We estimate that about 35 million students, or 60% of the U.S. school population, receive measures from one source or another. Some students get Lexile measures from tests but their teachers are not aware of it, so please check that this is not the case for you. 

Otherwise, the best thing is to ask your school to adopt a program such as myON Reader, or send a note to your state chief’s office requesting they adopt the Lexile Framework.

Q: From a webinar attendee: As a school librarian without access to Lexile measures for 600 students, how can I best support students and teachers?

A:Since so many students are getting Lexile measures, do please check with the classroom teachers or school administrators whether students are receiving them. But if they do not have Lexile measures, then you can still help them by doing the following. First, organize your library books by Lexile range (100L to 200L on one shelf, 200L to 300L on another shelf, etc.) Then, refer students to on-grade texts by using the table on this page.

This shows Lexile ranges for each grade; for example, 2nd-grade students typically read books in the 420L to 650L range. It gives your students a starting point for selecting a book. Stronger readers can start with books at the top of the range, and weaker readers can start at the lower end of the range. Students can then refine their own reading preferences up or down depending on whether they found the first book difficult or easy. And of course, remember that text complexity is only one aspect to consider—always let them choose books on topics that they are interested in!