How Tracking Student Data Improves Teaching Practices


Guest Post: Holly Walsh, Common Core Resources Associate, The Achievement Network

Holly is a former teacher and now works as a Common Core Resources Associate at The Achievement Network. She is also a Teach for America alumna and Corps Member Adviser at TFA’s teacher training Institute where she led instructional sessions on the why and how to start tracking classroom data. Read on to learn how she did it!

My first semester as a teacher was… well, exhausting. It was certainly exciting and challenging (and many other things, too) but the bottom line was that I was tired. When I heard about student data tracking practices (in this case, meaning students would individually keep track of their progress in class), I was excited to give it a try, but I felt like I just could not add one more thing to my schedule or management load. I decided to carve out some time during winter break to plan and introduce tracking practices the following semester. The results were incredible.

Why should students track progress?

First and foremost, tracking progress was a huge motivator for my students. I saw immediate changes in student investment after I started tracking in my classroom. My students were empowered to analyze their strengths and growth areas and set individualized academic goals. They learned to articulate which classroom and study habits contributed to success as well as how to calculate their growth percentage over the course of a unit.

Tracking also helped me reflect and improve upon my practices as a teacher. Students were excited about tracking progress after each assessment, thus holding me accountable to staying organized and returning graded assessments the next day.   I had immediate data on hand to send home or share during phone calls home and parent-teacher conferences. Seeing trends across my students’ trackers also helped me understand which types of teaching practices were working better than others.

What does student tracking look like?

Student tracking can take on a number of different forms. I taught my students to track data in several ways, but I found the most effective system was when students calculated and recorded their mastery by standard for each pre-test, quiz, and test we took throughout the unit. They received a new tracker every time we started a new unit.

The trackers looked like this:

student goal setting worksheet

I know… it looks daunting. Reading and filling out the tracker was a process I had to teach my students step-by-step. But, once students understood the process, they LOVED them! They have even convinced a few other teachers to use a similar tracking template in other classrooms.

As you can see in the sample tracker above, I asked students to track their percent mastery (listed on the y-axis) for each standard (listed on the x-axis). (Note: SWBAT stands for “student will be able to,” which is how I presented my daily objective to the class.)

You’ll see each standard is broken down further into “pre-test,” “quiz” and “test” columns. At the beginning of each unit, students would take a pre-test, correct it, and calculate their percent mastery for each standard. Next they drew the bar to the correct height in the “pre-test” column. As we progressed through the unit, students would again calculate their mastery for that standard after taking the quiz, and then again after taking the test.

As students filled in new mastery scores throughout the unit, they would set study and improvement goals at different points. Sometimes, I would have them discuss their progress and goals with a parent or guardian as part of their homework.

Eventually, the trackers would look something like this:

student data tracking template student data tracking template

While I didn’t require students to color code their trackers (I had a limited number of coloring supplies and wanted to make this process as efficient as possible), many students started doing this on their own. It definitely makes a tracker easier to read. As you can see in the second student example above, the student color-coded her diagnostic (a.k.a. “pre-test”) mastery scores blue, her quiz mastery scores pink, and her test mastery scores a darker purple-ish color.

Having this data readily available was incredibly helpful. Students traced clear connections within their performance over the unit and were motivated by seeing their mastery improve. Alternatively, if mastery did not improve, it was a great starting point for us to think about factors for why this was the case.

How should this look in my classroom?

Different classrooms have different tracking needs (depending on grade level, content area, etc.) I encourage you to use any of the ideas I described above or create your own system if something else would better meet your needs. Either way, I’d suggest remembering the following:

  1. Student should know what they are tracking, what it means, and how they are growing.
  2. Tracking needs to be consistent in the classroom. Otherwise, it is ineffective. Set up systems that will ensure you return materials (assessments, performance reviews, whatever you’re tracking) on time and students know what is expected of them during class time dedicated to tracking.
  3. Remember to CELEBRATE progress and successes!

celebrate student data

Here’s of photo my “[Au]some” Student Work wall. I would often spotlight entire trackers on this wall at the end of a unit.

Happy Tracking!

See how Gradeable can help you can your class with your goals at

1 comment for “How Tracking Student Data Improves Teaching Practices

  1. Katie Hervey
    August 21, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    I teach 5th grade science. Is there anyway to get an electronic version of your tracker? This is amazing!!!!

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