What Does Data-Driven Mean in ELA & 7 Ways Grade Cam Revolutionizes Data-Driven Decisions

51ghsQ9md0LThinking back on the teacher education courses I took in college and graduate school, I don’t recall a single professor discussing the importance of data-driven instruction or what implementing it looked like in a classroom setting. I can’t recall reading any research-based or pragmatic approaches for what a teacher should do after developing and administering a test, multiple-choice or not.

Analyzing data is certainly not the easiest, most glamorous, or quick endeavor for a teacher. However, it’s the only way to ensure that instruction is relevant and skills that need remediation are retaught in a different way.

I first became familiar with data directing what a teacher teaches when reading excerpts of Driven By Data by Paul Bambrick Santoyo, a text devoted to detailing, explaining, and providing examples of teachers making data central to their daily practice.

I worked at a charter school where we had weekly data meeting that required teachers to prepare a data sheet analyzing questions and skills students struggled with most, so we could prepare a re-teach plan with our coaches. We epitomized data-driven. During my first semester teaching there, this was a new challenge for me and the school because I taught a writing composition class, which meant I had to develop a system for identifying student strengths and weaknesses without compromising the organic nature of a writing workshop. I used rubrics provided by the state and developed by the school I worked at to grade student work within the four traditional categories off which we assess writing: development, focus/organization, conventions, and language. The problem was that each category was so vast that there was no easy way to understand what students struggled with specifically in each assignment.

Categories of the Resource Binder and Codes within the

Therefore, I devised my own data-driven instruction system. Every student had a conference with me over the course of each assignment. Prior to the conference, they completed a Conference Workbook where they identified a strength and weakness in their writing, as did I. To ensure everyone was working from a common vocabulary of what strengths and weaknesses in writing look like, I developed a coding system around the different elements of the rubric.

The image to the left shows the 5 categories for the Resource Binders and the specific codes for the “Focus” category. In creating the different resource binder categories and codes, I realized they needed to be broad enough for any writing assignment from a personal narrative to a persuasive essay. However, they also needed to be specific enough to ensure students were honing in on a specific element of their writing craft.

When a student completed his/her conference workbook, the assignment where they identified a strength and weakness in their writing prior to the conference, he/she selected one of the 5 categories and from there, one specific code. At the conference, I would share what I believed to be their strength and weakness. Once we discussed his/her writing weakness for the project, he/she would retrieve a worksheet from the resource binders for their coded weakness.

For example, if I told a student their weakness for the week was “F.3 There are hooks and other attention getting strategies in the writing,” they would pull F.3 from the Resource Binder for Focus. The Resource Binder Page included notes about the topic and a quick practice for students to feel comfortable using the skill before revising their writing project. Then, on the day we worked on large-scale revisions, students would pull out the Resource Binder page that was their weakness for the project, and they would revise specifically for that skill. This process felt like differentiated instruction at its best. 

Excel Workbook documenting student strengths and weaknesses.
Excel Workbook documenting student strengths and weaknesses.

During conferences, I kept an Excel workbook where I logged all student strengths and weaknesses. After conferences, I would create a pivot table that aggregated strengths and weaknesses in writing. I used this coding system to remediate instruction when we edited/ revised our writing. Based on what students struggled with in the assignment, I could create editing/ revising lessons that focused on those particular skills. This was also a helpful tool for me to track individual student progress over the course of the semester and progress of all my students.

Pivot Table showing aggregated strengths/weaknesses.
Pivot Table showing aggregated strengths/weaknesses.

In the spring of last year as we began preparation for our state test, the coding system I developed for my writing workshop was no longer relevant.

This was the time period when I first began using Grade Cam. 

Grade Cam was commonplace at my school, especially because the majority of teachers relied on multiple-choice assessment on a daily basis.

If you are interested in using Grade Cam, you should know that it’s not free, but it’s also not expensive. The price for a teacher membership starts at $15 a month. Grade Cam also offers a 60-day free trial.


Grade Cam is a more advanced and user-friendly version of the Scantron system because it offers the following benefits:

Generate a form for students with any number of questions/ digits in student ID.

1. Grade Cam allows for fast creation of forms for students on an intuitive platform.

A form, as termed by Grade Cam, is the equivalent of a Scantron that student fills in during as assessment or test. At the school i work at this year, most teachers use Scantrons for assessment. In fact, my ELA team used the costly Scantrons for assessments. This meant if we utilized any multiple-choice format assignments in class, they needed to be graded by hand because the Scantrons were designed for 100-questions or 50-questions and could only be used accordingly.

Once a teacher logs in to Grade Cam, form creation is 1 of 4 options on the top menu. A teacher can create a form of any question length, the number of digits in a student ID can be changed, and the number of answer options in a question can be changed. I talk about more customization options in #6.

Once the form has the number of questions you’d like, you have many options to get the form to students:

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 3.25.19 PM
Grade Cam form inserted at the end of class materials for students.

A. You can print pre-filled forms for each class, which include the student name at the top of the page and their ID pre-filled in. I use this feature when i introduce Grade Cam to a new group of students to simplify the process of distributing student IDs.

B. Grade Cam can “scan” an assignment that is 5 questions on a  40 question form, so you don’t have to create a customized form for each assignment. With that being said, a teacher at my school prints off hundreds of Grade Cam forms at a time and allows students to grab one as needed.

C. My preference is to take a screenshot of the Form and insert it in my class materials. This way, I can customize the length of the form based on the assignment and insert it at the end of my class materials. I like this option because it reduces any transition time students would need to find a Form or grab one in my room.

Students can scan their own assignments using the
Students can scan their own assignments using the “Student View” feature where they only see their grade + missed questions.

2. Students enjoy being part of the grading process, and they can instantly see their score + what they missed.

One aspect of Grade Cam that my students have grown to love this year is the “Student View” feature for grading. Typically, when a teacher clicks on an assignment on the Grade Cam website, he/she holds the form up to the web cam or under the document camera until the form is successfully read by the software (a few seconds) and a grade is registered. This screen displays a log of student scores, a small box showing what the camera is reading, and the last student score/ questions missed immediately below. A teacher can click “Student View,” which only displays a box with what the camera sees. Once a student scans his/her form, the screen shows a percentage and a list of the questions missed.

You can scan assignments using an iPad, document camera, or web cam.

I allow my students to scan their HW from the previous night at the beginning of class on a computer that I’ve designated as the Grade Cam station.My students love the autonomy inherent in grading their work. They also love the instant feedback and have been excited to go back and understand the mistakes they made on an assignment.

3. If you made a mistake on your key or on the test, it’s not a hassle of apocalyptic proportions to fix it. 

Example of what a key looks like in Grade Cam.
Example key for a Grade Cam assignment. You can change the answer or point value at any point.

It’s almost inevitable that I will make a mistake either on my key for a test or on the test itself no matter how many times I check it. When I used Scantron, this caused a time-consuming process of giving students points back by checking every single Scantron.

On Grade Cam, you can change your answer key at any point, even after you have graded every assignment. Grade Cam will automatically go back and adjust student scores because it keeps a record of the answer choices each student selected on every question.

Additionally, if you decide that a question was poorly constructed, had more than one correct answer choice, or didn’t have a correct answer, you can remove the question from student scores. Often upon analyzing a test, I notice a question was missed by the majority of students, I’ll decide it wouldn’t be fair to count the question toward the student average. On your key in Grade Cam for the assignment/ test, you can make the question worth zero points. I use this feature frequently to ensure my students aren’t penalized for mistakes I’ve made in content creation.

3. The data from an assignment can be viewed in any and every way imaginable. 

Teachers can view the % of students who selected each answer choice.
These bar graphs show the % of students who answered each question correctly and what other answer choices they selected most frequently.

My favorite feature of Grade Cam is the endless data analysis capabilities. The Grade Cam platform is unlike any other comparable software I’ve seen. You can sort data by class, student, assignment, standard, and question.

My favorite way to look at the data is by question on a particular assignment. You can see in the image to the right a bar graph for each question on an assignment. I love this feature because it allows me to determine which distractors students selected most frequently and plan reteaches based on the distractors they chose.

Data can be viewed by class.
Grade Cam generates reports for each class showing a line graph with all scores and averages for every assignment.

I also frequent the reports for each class. This feature generates a graph showing scores for all assignments. The bottom of the screen shows the class averages for each assignment and the number of students who took each assessment/assignment. If you insert a standard for each question on your key or for an entire assignment, you can also track your class mastery by standard from this page.

Data summary shows average and bar graph indicating number of students who scored in each percentage range.
Overview of data showing mastery and number of students in each percentile range.

In addition to looking at data by class, I also love the bar graph that shows overall student mastery for an assignment. The data overview is both extremely easy to interpret and highly informational. The bars represent the number of students who were in a particular percentile range. The colors show the range of mastery (green= >80%, yellow 70-79%, and red <70%).

Data can be viewed by class mastery per question.
Mastery by question and class. Color coded by mastery level. This feature makes it easy to plan differentiated reteaches for each class you teach.

Finally, I also frequent the feature which allows you to view mastery by class on each question. This is a helpful feature whether or not your classes are leveled. Grade Cam also color codes the data again so you can easily spot which classes have not yet mastered a skill. This makes planning differentiated reteaches simple and efficient.

4. Grading make-up or late work is not a hassle. 

When a teacher logs in, all entered assignments are visible on the home screen.
When you log into Grade Cam, all assignments you’ve created keys for automatically show.

As most teachers do, I have a late work policy that sets me up to grade all missing/ late work over the weekend. I find this process tedious and inefficient because I’m pulling out lots of different answer keys, grading a couple of each assignment, and I’m spending lots of time navigating through my grade book to get these grades in.

Grade Cam doesn’t eliminate this problem, but it is a much more efficient system that keeping a binder of answer keys atop your desk.

From the assignment screen, you can easily click any assignment and grade it in just a few seconds.

You can use the hot keys feature described in #5 to transfer grades to your grade book in just a few seconds.

5. Grade Cam most likely connects to your Grade Book. 

When I first used Grade Cam last year, my school used the grade book Kickboard. I could export a .csv file (similar to Excel) and upload it to Kickboard. This meant I could grade and enter an assignment for over 100 students in about 10 minutes.

Grade Cam works with most grade books to transfer grades either through the upload of a .csv file or hot keys.

This year, my school uses Skyward. Grade Cam also has a grade transfer feature called “hot keys” that allows you to open both Grade Cam and your grade book and transfer grades with the click of 1 button (F8 for me this year).

This hot keys transfer feature is generally effective, but you must ensure your grade book lists your students identically to Grade Cam. It’s more challenging to set this feature up, but Grade Cam has great directions and customer support.

6. Grade Cam allows for teacher or school wide collaboration and data analysis. 

Grade Cam also boasts school-collaboration features. If you school or district purchases this feature, you can share keys with teacher, access one another’s data, and easily collaborate in analyzing data. This would conceivably also make it easy for administrators to track students progress throughout the year instead of only when benchmarks are taken.

Final Thoughts:

A writing workshop can be organic, authentic, and data driven.
A writing workshop can be organic, authentic, and data driven.

Grade Cam is a great tool for what it is. In much of the reading I’ve done on education policy this year, I continually see more and more teacher-leaders and policy makers who I respect immensely argue that the data-driven movement is one arm of corporatization continuing to influence the sphere of public education. While I don’t disagree with this assertion, using data to drive instruction is an effective and necessary practice for teachers. As I detailed in the beginning of this post, using data from a multiple-choice test is not the only way to use data in instruction. I had to be creative to measure creativity in writing, which was both time consuming and required a requisite knowledge of Excel and quantitative methods. If we aren’t responsive to what our students are producing and demonstrating in our classrooms, we’re failing them as teachers. As a student, I rarely understood material the first time it was placed in front of me. I needed additional practice, explanation, and the motivation to push through my frustration. My parents and teachers at a small, private IB school in Idaho artfully guided me through my formative learning experiences. Due in part to my personality, the number of students I have this year (125), and the number of standards from both the state of Tennessee and Common Core, I know I cannot keep track of where each of my students is on the road to mastery. In the last two years, Grade Cam is one tool that has enabled me to ensure I know where each of my students and classes are in the learning process at any given moment.  

4 thoughts on “What Does Data-Driven Mean in ELA & 7 Ways Grade Cam Revolutionizes Data-Driven Decisions

  1. Pingback: On the Road: 11 Surefire Strategies to Motivate Students for State Tests & A Critique of the Testing Machine | Teaching the Writers: 7th Grade English Curriculum

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