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Friday 1 September 2017

Monitoring Progress Through Data Collection

When teaching students who are on alternative curriculums such as the HELP, it is important to track and monitor their progress. The most effective way to do this is by collecting data.

Data should drive all the decisions we make. Data is used to determine if a goal is mastered, when to switch or add new targets or when to change teaching procedures to make greater progress. This information is collected and then reflected onto graphs. Graphs are visual tools we use to assess where our target behavior has been, where it is now, and where we can project it to go.

Data can be collected on many different behaviors. These behaviors can include behaviors we want to decrease (aggression, screaming, tantrums, pinching, self-injurious behavior, etc.) or behaviors we want to increase (requesting for information, learning to read, counting, etc.).

It is important to collect and analyze data to measure student progress, evaluate the effectiveness of the student's individual program, and to identify skills and/or behaviors that need to be taught. There are a variety of data collection methods such as probe data, time sampling recording procedures, task analysis data, and trial by trial data that yield reliable, accurate, and valid data.

Types of Data collection

While the data is important, it must never interfere with our teaching. There a few ways data can be collected to track a student’s progress with their IEP goals.

One method of data collection is called trial-by-trial data, where data is collected for every presentation of the skill. Data can also be collected as single-probe data, where the data is collected on the first presentation of the day. Both single-probe and trial-by-trial data are typically collected with a plus (+) or independent (I) for a correct response and a minus (-) or prompted (P) for incorrect responses.

Task analysis data is used for skills that involve a sequence of steps such as washing hands or doing laundry. Data is taken on each step in the sequence, allowing you to see which step the student can complete independently and which step(s) the student needs to be taught through prompting. 

Data can also be collected using tallies, which is mainly used when we are interested in determining the frequency of a behavior, i.e. mand data (number of verbal requests) is collected as a tally of I and P over a time period (min) and then calculated as a ratio of independent and prompted mands (requests) per minute.

When collecting data on behaviours that you want to decrease, the most common form used in schools is referred to as ABC data or charts. When using ABC charts, staff are trying to determine what the antecedents (A) are before the behaviour (B) occurs and what the consequences (C) are after the behaviour occurs. Collecting this type of data is useful for determining the function of the behaviour. Once the function of the behaviour has been determined, then an appropriate plan can be developed to reduce or extinguish the behaviour. 


Implementing a Data Collection System

Typically, data collection for a DTT trial is done after each trial. As the student is contacting their reinforcement, the teacher is writing down how the child performed at the task. The type of data sheet used can range from very simple to complex. It can be checkmarks, a plus/minus system, self graphing, etc. The method of data collection isn’t as important as making sure data is collected. It will be difficult to impossible to determine progress and make programming decisions without solid, accurate data. 

In my classroom, we take trial by trial data during DTT sessions.  We use a simple plus/minus data system based on this data sheet from from Christine Reeve's Book, Taming the Data Monster.  These data sheets contain all of the information needed for the instructor to run the program, take the data and graph it all on one sheet. You can also customize them to meet your specific needs. There is one data sheet for each goal the student is being taught, so if your student has a lot of goals, you could end up with a big binder of data sheets.  While I like this format, it is challenging to flip through the data sheets to find the goal you want during a session, if your binder is not well organized.


Another type of data sheet that I have used in the past contains numerous goals or programs on one page.  The positive aspect of this type of data sheet is that you aren't flipping through a series of pages while trying to collect data and it's an easily portable system.  The downside of this data sheet is that you can't include a lot of important teaching instructions for your EAs/aides, so you need to write a separate teaching instruction sheet for each goal/program.  The other negative aspect of this sheet is that you also have to graph data on a separate sheet, so you end up with an even bigger binder full of teaching sheets, data sheets and graphs.  I also found this system to be more time consuming to write the programs and organize.  As a Senior Therapist in an ABA program I had time built into my schedule to do this, but as a SPED teacher, I don't have enough prep time to set this up!

If you don’t like data collection or want to avoid taking so much data, I’d suggest collecting first trial data.  First trial data or “cold probe” data collection method involves collecting data only on the first trial conducted for each of the student’s goals/programs. The idea is that the first trial is a good test of how the student is doing because it follows a period of no practice and absence of receiving feedback on performance. All decisions about whether the student has mastered skills and has maintained this mastery over time are made based on first trial data.

The research results on this type of data collection are mixed.  While there are definite positives to collecting less data, i.e. more time is spent instructing and engaging with the student, having only one data point often doesn't accurately measure progress or pinpoint where the student is struggling.  I rarely use this type of data collection in my classroom as most of my students are severely impaired.  If I have a student, however, who has demonstrated rapid progress, I will switch to this method so that we keep up with the rate of learning and avoid the student getting bored by remaining on the same skill for too long.

 Things to Consider When Taking Data

Take data on skills/behavior as it happens (or as soon afterward as possible).  

I had one EA in my room who never took data as she was presenting trials.  She would record the data when the DTT session was finished, saying that she could remember how the student did on each trial.  After her first week in my classroom of recording data in this manner, I decided to do some IOA (inter-observer agreement) recording with her.  When we compared our data, it looked completely different.  She had not remembered how the student responded on several trials and her data was not accurate or reliable.

People tend to remember what fits with what they think is happening--so if you think Toby is getting better at manding, you are likely to remember the times he manded instead of the times he didn't, but should have. 

Your system of data collection should be easy to use and portable.

To take data as it happens across the day and across environments, you need a data collection system that is easy to understand by all staff, can be easily transported, and allows staff to quickly record data without interfering with teaching.  For DTT sessions in my classroom, we use the data sheets referenced above which are kept in binders and housed in our DTT area and therefore easily accessible.  For data collection during other times of the day, we either have clipboards or binders with the data sheets we need in each area of the room.  

During math and literacy centres, we have binders with all of the students data sheets in the teacher bin.  So, during rotations, whoever is at that table collects the data for each student.  

During our morning meeting and other whole class lessons, one staff is assigned to collect the data on all of the students during that activity.

For personal care skills such as toileting or brushing teeth, a clipboard is kept in the washroom and data is recorded by the staff member with that student at the time.

Analyze your data.

Research shows that teachers who graph their data and review it weekly have students who perform better. Data is taken to measure progress, and our students are constantly making progress!  Analyzing the data you have collected on your students on a weekly basis allows you to pinpoint where your students are making progress, how quickly they are progressing, and where they are struggling.  Weekly review of your data also allows you to ensure that your students are not getting bored by staying on the same skill or step of a skill for too long.

In my classroom, we are fortunate enough to have every Wednesday afternoon without students.  Every Wednesday afternoon, we sit down together and go through all of the student's data binders, program by program, to make any revisions we need to encourage faster mastery, reduce prompt levels, and choose new targets or skills.  This habit of reviewing the data weekly ensures that we are teaching our students to progress and moving them forward in their learning.

How do you take data in your classroom?  What system(s) do you use?  What do you struggle with the most?  I'd love to hear from you!  Drop a comment below!  Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,


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