Using data in the classroom to help students

Originally published in STEM Magazine – September 2019

As a math teacher for more than 14 years, “I hate math” is something that I hear at least once a year in my classroom. It’s rare to find a student who starts out with a love for math, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we rethink the way we teach it.

With all the technology at our fingertips today, we can be doing more to deliver lessons that are responsive to students’ needs, abilities and interests, and that can help them enjoy learning (even math!). According to the Department of Education, in 2017 only 34 percent of 8th grade students performed at or above proficient on math assessments. By using real-time data, schools can drive instruction that supports academic gains, and breathes new life into teaching to turn these kinds of statistics around.  

At Arizona Virtual Academy, teachers use data to identify areas where students need the most assistance. Data-driven instruction is essential in our effort to build a culture around a shared vision for student success. The lessons we’re learning are noteworthy for virtual and brick-and-mortar schools alike. By utilizing real-time data, teachers can identify learning gaps as they happen, and use targeted instruction to ensure that students are on a path to success.

Most schools are using data to analyze performance from one year to the next, but that often means waiting for report cards or end-of-year exams to get a clear picture on student progress. With our framework, I’m able to see this data in real-time, at a student-by-student level. This means that I’m able to start helping students when their struggles begin, before it avalanches into something larger.

The data I’m unlocking arrives in many ways. As my students’ complete assignments or quizzes, or even interact with problems during our lessons, I can see who’s understanding the topic. With students coming into my class at varying levels of prior exposure, this data helps me identify where we need to focus the most attention. I can tailor my lessons for each class and even personalize lessons down to the individual students.

For our unit on quadratic functions, students watched a video of a person shooting a basketball and had to calculate whether the ball would make it into the hoop by analyzing the drawing of a parabola of the player’s aim. Students hypothesize and answer in real-time, giving me a quick look at their content mastery. It also simplified the concept into something they could relate to outside of class.

With the data I gain from assignments and tests, I’m able to see where my students are excelling and where they struggle. For those who are not grasping concepts, I schedule tutoring sessions where we work together to fully understand the concept. If needed, teachers can conduct targeted Reteach Sessions, in which lessons are provided again with a different approach to accommodate the student.

After tutoring and Reteach Sessions, I can see the impact as their scores go up. In analyzing student data, we can see how students approached a problem and where they went wrong, and then determine steps to help them move forward.

As we implement these strategies, we are seeing results, and not just in math. High school students closed a 12-percentage point gap in English/language arts scores, and algebra 1 students have surpassed the state average by 10 percentage points. The number of students achieving proficiency in math has jumped 27 percentage points during this period.

With the treasure trove of information data can unlock, it’s important that teachers remain focused on their mission – educating students. Of course, it’s important to remember that students are more than a number, but we can use data to bridge gaps and inspire our students. All teachers should embrace the ways data can help improve academic outcomes and set students on a path to success.

Geok Ann Julien has served as an educator for more than 18 years. She currently serves as a high school Algebra I teacher at Arizona Virtual Academy.

To learn more about Arizona Virtual Academy, visit

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