Drowning in data? Here’s a way to stay above water

Collecting and analyzing data from your classroom can be a daunting task. For many special education teachers, it can be the least favorite part of their job. How do you organize data? How do you spot key trends? What does it mean?

The answers are closer than you think.

The Data Collection Toolkit and The Special Educator’s Toolkit (both available in the CEC online catalog at pubs.cec.sped.org) are invaluable resources for anyone seeking to collect and analyze data to help learners both academically and behaviorally.

Paired together, they provide special education teachers with everything they need to develop and monitor effective special education services. As a former special education program administrator, I recommend that school and district-level administrators put this dynamic combo in the hands of every special education teacher.

The Data Collection Toolkit contain forms, tips, strategies, and information to facilitate the collection of data necessary to create and monitor an effective learning environment. The book begins by asking the reader to become a “classroom detective” and provides a thorough overview of data collection and analysis.

Each chapter addresses a different topic such as target behaviors, data-based decision making, and progress monitoring. It provides an overview of core concepts before providing the sample form to collect the relevant data. The easy-to-use format, coupled with the background information about collecting and using data effectively, allows anyone to easily use the data collection tools.

The Special Educator’s Toolkit includes everything a special education teacher needs to organize, manage, and monitor her or his classroom. It covers critical components for classroom organization, including environment, communication and supports, teaching methods and materials, behavior management, paperwork, classroom staff, and home supports.

Each chapter is filled with evidence-based strategies that are ready to implement immediately in a classroom. The book applies to all grade levels and includes a plethora of examples, graphics, and pictures to help educators put the tools and strategies into practice. Special education teachers can share this resource with paraprofessionals so they can implement the tools together and separately to meet the needs of all learners in their classroom.

I have worked as a special education teacher and program administrator and am currently an instructor at the university level. I see the value of using The Data Collection Toolkit and The Special Educator’s Toolkit from all three perspectives.

These toolkits apply to the first-year teacher, veteran teacher, and anyone in between. Many enter the field without formal training on data-based decisions, including paraprofessionals and lateral-entry teachers. These books remove any barriers from lack of training or expertise by building background knowledge, delivering examples, and providing step-by-step instructions for using the forms. I would have loved to have these toolkits as a teacher, as I created many forms and checklists myself.

These resources help teachers “work smarter, not harder” while ensuring they do not have to “reinvent the wheel.” Using these toolkits across the school and/or department will also foster continuity and a strong collaborative approach for the interdisciplinary problem-solving process.

Interventionists, special education teachers, general education teachers, school psychologists, administrators, social workers, school counselors, paraprofessionals, and all other school personnel can use these tools and learn to speak the same language when analyzing the data to determine the best course of action for students with special needs.

School administrators, mentors, and instructional coaches can also use the same metrics when conducting classroom visits and observations. This sets a standard for teacher expectations while structuring feedback in a meaningful and consistent manner.

Many school administrators do not have a background in special education. These toolkits provide them with the tools they need to better understand what an effective classroom should look like while making available quality sources of professional development for those teachers in need of guidance and additional support.

As a former special education program administrator, I would have provided every special education teacher with this book while also using it to deliver a professional development series on making data-based decisions and classroom management. It’s an administrator’s dream to be able to provide teachers with two books that has everything they need to organize, manage, and monitor classroom data.

Having two practitioner-oriented toolkits alleviates feelings of being overwhelmed by having to rely on multiple sources to create data-collection forms. The toolkits provide the new teacher with a place to start and takes the veteran teacher to the next level.

Ultimately administrators must demonstrate a level of accountability for providing students with disabilities with a free appropriate public education which includes having data to indicate students are growing and progressing towards their learning goals. The Data Collection Toolkit provides this for both the creation of measurable IEP goals and the monitoring of students’ progress in meeting these goals. The Special Educator’s Toolkit equips them with classroom management practices that ensure a safe and engaging classroom environment conducive to learning.

As a current instructor in two different teacher preparation programs, I also see the value of these toolkits. Each toolkit provides the rational and research behind the approach before providing the educator with a practitioner-friendly example that can be used immediately in the classroom. Teacher efficacy involves making data-based decisions while successfully managing a classroom. The toolkits foster not only the understanding of evidence-based practices, but also how to implement them in a real classroom setting. Both toolkits would serve as great course texts for a variety of courses including assessment, behavior management, and methods for teaching students with special needs.

CEC member, Julie I. Bost, Ed.D. contributed this content. Julie, is a member of the CEC Board of Directors and a Teaching Assistant Professor at East Carolina University. She has 20 years of experience in the field of special education as a classroom teacher and most recently as a Program Specialist for Exceptional Children in the Alamance-Burlington School System, Burlington, North Carolina.

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