Special Services Newsletter


The Low Down on Data Collection

As the field of education, and in particular special education, becomes focused on evidence based practices, data becomes an integral component of our practice. Data is critical for collecting baseline on skill strengths and deficits, and is also used to monitor the effectiveness of our evidence based interventions. Data is essential for IEP goals and objectives, as we are required to write IEPs with measurable goals. This means you can count, observe, and document progress on a goal. Data must also be used to measure regression and recoupment for ESY services in order to determine the level of need.

As I have mentioned before, the use of evidence based practices is rooted in medicine, and it helps to draw some comparisons. Data collection is our thermometer- it helps us determine if there is a skill deficit, how significant this deficit is compared to the norm (98.7) and if our intervention, the medicine, is working. It tells us when to stop the intervention cures the problem, or conversely, if we might need to use a different approach.

So how do you do it?

Data collection does not need to be overwhelming. It can be down quickly and efficiently in many different ways. The first step is to consider the problem that is presented- what is it? Is it an academic or behavioral issue? Then consider why it is a problem. What are typical peers doing differently? Then, how can you measure this gap?

If it is an academic issue you have many tools at your hands- STAR and Necap data, as well as standardized tests. Running records, fluency measures, spelling, and performance on math goals can often be measured in percentages, (70% correct). You can take it a step further by analyzing work samples- compare the work of the student with the work sample of a typical peer. It helps to create a rubric when doing this to keep it objective. For example, in analyzing a writing sample you can compare sentence length, total word count, letter formation, spelling, use of punctuation, etc. A close examinations of the errors a student makes can also be very revealing in measuring a skill deficit.

When looking at behavior issues, the same approach can be applied. First, what kind of data are you already collecting? Do you have a point system that can be put into a graph? Do you use a green/yellow/red zone, that could be recorded for the student at the end of the day? For schools who are using PBIS, ODRs can be used to measure behavior.

Taking it a step further, can you count the frequency of a behavior? For example, "in a 10 minute observation, the student called out 6 times during math class". Can you measure the duration of it? For example, "in a 20 minute classroom observation, John put his heads on his desk and refused to work for 16 minutes". Can you measure the magnitude of it, using a rubric? You might use this for a student acting out and define it the following way: 1=sitting at desk complaining, 2=walking around room and interrupting instruction, 3=shouting loudly, 4=shouting (loud enough to be heard down the hall) and aggressive behavior (throwing and kicking), 5=extremely unsafe behavior requiring adult intervention. This can be used to record the magnitude and the frequency of the behavior (for example, level 2 for 6 minutes an hour).

Often, behavior problems occur at high rates, making it time consuming to count. If so, it is best to do a time sample, such as recording the frequency of the behavior for the first 5 minutes of every hour, or recording whether the behavior occurs or does not occur within a 20 minute time frame. It can also be difficult to record a severe behavior issue when focused on keeping a student safe- in this case you may need to record the duration and magnitude on the nearest scrap of paper or call it out to another staff person to record. You can also record it as soon as it is over, while it is still fresh in your mind.

Qualitative data can also be critical in analyzing behavior issues, and the best measure used is the Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence chart. After a behavioral event occurs, record the antecedent- what happened immediately before the behavior? what was the activity, the time of day, the day of the week? Then, what was the behavior? Record just the facts of it: "John threw his book across the room and shouted I hate this" instead of "John became agitated". Last, record the consequence. It is important to note that this does not mean the punitive consequence, simply how the behavior was addressed. "John sat at his desk quietly, I waited until he said he was sorry, and he went and picked his book up". When you are recording a behavior that has become a concern, it is important to continue your standard consequences for that behavior in order to have accurate baseline data. ABC sheets can then be analyzed to see a pattern in behaviors and to identify a root cause that can guide your intervention: "John often acts out during math class. He is missing some fundamental math skills, and has agreed to attend Department Night. Additionally, during math class, he will be allowed to take 2 breaks to take a quick walk to the water fountain".

Next year I will be offering professional development on data collection "Data Collection Without Tears" as well as the next step, "Behavior Intervention Plans without Tears". As always, if you have questions or would like support in your use of data, please contact me and I would be happy to help.

Jennifer Connolly,

Director of Special Services