Finding patterns in assessment data

Tuesday, 9 Mar 2021

In an interview with Teacher, ACER Research Fellow Dr Katie Richardson says analysing classroom assessment data in different ways can reveal patterns that illustrate student learning needs.

‘There are many different factors that can impact on how a student responds to an assessment,’ Dr Richardson told Teacher. ‘Patterns in data provide clues for educators about where students are ready to learn.’

Dr Richardson said a common pattern, and the most obvious factor that impacts on how students respond to assessment questions, is the level of question difficulty.

‘We often see correct responses for the least difficult questions, incorrect responses for the most difficult questions, and a scatter of correct and incorrect responses in the middle,’ Dr Richardson said. ‘However, it’s not always this straightforward. Sometimes we need to organise the data in different ways to find patterns.’

Other ways of analysing assessment data include: by the skills and knowledge being assessed; the question format where, for example, a student might be able to solve a mathematical equation correctly but is not yet able to interpret a worded question that focuses on the same skills; and the length of the assessment task, as errors may become more frequent as time progresses.

Dr Richardson said patterns may also identify common misconceptions among groups of students, and even detect anomalies within the class.

‘Being able to spot patterns in the data also means that we can identify when there are no clear patterns or where one student’s patterns are very different from other students,’ Dr Richardson told Teacher. ‘When this happens, teachers need to ask questions about the student’s responses, the questions in the task, and the student’s context to figure out possible explanations.’

As a facilitator of ACER’s Graduate Certificate of Education: Assessment of Student Learning, Dr Richardson has supported teachers around the world to use assessment evidence to inform teaching and learning.

In a recent webinar on using assessment data to inform remote teaching, Dr Richardson said patterns are often easier to spot in the data of professionally designed tests than in classroom-developed assessments.

The interactive online reporting capabilities of ACER’s flagship suite of Progressive Achievement (PAT) classroom assessments supports educators to find the patterns in their data. Both individual student and group PAT reports show the student’s correct and incorrect responses as well as the difficulty of each question, enabling teachers to identify particular questions, or types of questions, that have caused students trouble.

ACER provides a range of online courses, workshops and webinars to support teachers and leaders to increase their expertise in analysing and interpreting PAT assessment data, whatever their starting point. In addition, ACER’s popular Using and Interpreting Data in Schools short course helps develop teachers’ understandings about the kinds of data used in schools, the different ways in which data can be represented, and what they can tell teachers about student learning. ■

Read the full interview with Dr Richardson:

Q&A: Student assessment – looking at data from different angles, by Dominique Russell, Teacher, 9 March 2021.