May 18, 2020

By Martin Yan

Are our students learning successfully? Are they ready to learn in terms of well-being and mental health? Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and leaders would likely have been able to answer these questions by referring to quantitative data—data such as:

  • Test scores
  • Number of student absences
  • Number of behavior incidents
  • Other numerical sources

However, when teachers don’t have immediate access to test scores or performance-based measures, they can rely on qualitative data to help answer these questions.

Let’s explore this point.

What is qualitative data?

Qualitative data is any type of data that can be observed and described non-numerically (generally by using words or letters). The results are used to gain insights about the experiences or beliefs of certain groups or individuals.

In traditional settings, examples of qualitative data in education include:

  • Observations
  • Journal entries
  • Document analyses
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups

In a remote learning environment, qualitative data could expand to include:

  • Check-in records
  • Notes from students
  • Personal surveys about well-being
  • Observations from online classes and conferences

Qualitative data are crucial to monitoring students’ learning and well-being—and might be the main data sources that we’re able to obtain from students at the moment. In this light, what are some practical tips on how to go about using and organizing qualitative data?

preteen boy on tablet

Examples of qualitative data in education

Qualitative data in education can come in many forms and is often collected through various methods. Here are some qualitative data examples in education:

  1. Student and teacher interviews. Interviews with students and teachers can provide rich qualitative data about their experiences in the classroom, including their perceptions of teaching and learning, their attitudes toward different subjects, and their views on school culture and climate.
  2. Classroom observations. Observations of classroom activities and interactions can provide valuable qualitative data about teaching practices, student engagement, and the learning environment. These observations can help identify improvement areas and inform decisions about instructional strategies.
  3. Focus groups. Focus groups with students, parents and guardians, or teachers can provide qualitative data about specific topics or issues, such as student motivation, parent involvement, or teacher professional development needs.
  4. Open-ended surveys. Surveys that allow for open-ended responses can provide qualitative data about student and teacher perceptions of teaching and learning, school culture and climate, or specific instructional strategies.
  5. Student work samples. Student work samples can provide qualitative data about student learning and progress over time, as well as insights into student thinking and problem-solving strategies.
  6. Case studies. Case studies of individual students or classrooms can provide in-depth qualitative data about specific teaching and learning practices, including student engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes.

Overall, qualitative data in education can provide rich and nuanced insights into the complex dynamics of teaching and learning and can inform decision making at the classroom, school, and district levels.

Are screeners qualitative data?

Screeners can provide both qualitative and quantitative data, depending on the type of screener used. Screeners are typically used to identify students who may need additional support or interventions in academic or social-emotional areas.

Some screeners may be more quantitative, involving standardized assessments or surveys that produce numerical scores or ratings. These types of screeners can provide data that is more easily analyzed using statistical methods and can provide a clear understanding of how students are performing relative to their peers—either academically or in terms of social-emotional behavior.

Other screeners may be more qualitative, involving open-ended questions or observations that provide more descriptive information about students’ strengths, challenges, and needs. These types of screeners can provide more nuanced information about students’ experiences, and can help educators to identify specific areas where support may be needed.

Overall, screeners can provide valuable data for educators to identify students who may need additional support or interventions. Whether the data is qualitative or quantitative, it can be used to inform decisions about:

  • Instructional strategies
  • Individualized support
  • Overall program planning

Providing qualitative data for educators

Improve academic outcomes by making data-driven decisions with resources from Renaissance.

5 ways to get started using qualitative data to support students

Qualitative research can be time-consuming and requires careful planning and execution. However, the insights gained from qualitative data can be invaluable in improving teaching and learning.

Here are five suggestions on how to get started:

#1: Create a common method of gathering & recording data

Having a general consensus among your team about how to approach the data collection process is essential. Do you want to perform personal surveys or compare observation notes?

Having an agreed-upon method will allow you to establish a set standard of performance and be consistent in the analysis and interpretation of the data. Also, decide on a common form within a platform to which all collaborators have access (e.g., a shared Google Drive or folder).

Whichever option you choose, enable your collaborators to have easy access and add input as needed to make decisions regarding next steps.

#2: Develop a protocol for red flags

Ensure there’s a process in place for responding to any glaring concerns about the data. For instance, who needs to know if a student self-reports that he’s feeling severely depressed and is at risk for self-harm? Does this incident require the attention of a school counselor or principal?

Having the right protocol in place for escalation will make it easier when multiple parties need to be involved.

It’s also crucial for all school staff members to be familiar with the risk factors and warning signs of harmful behavior, and work towards creating a safe environment for students to share information.

#3: Discover trends based on your current data

Collecting the data is just the first step. Next, you’ll need to interpret the results.

When reviewing the data, what patterns or trends can you identify? What does the data tell you about the needs of students right now?

Looking closely at your data, you might discover that students need more or different supports than you had been expecting. Perhaps it’s increased opportunities for collaboration, more informal meet-ups, or new motivations to re-engage with learning.

A major factor for success in any learning environment is being able to adapt quickly and pivot if necessary.

#4: Use the data to plan ahead

Use your data now to plan for the upcoming school year. See what adjustments you can make over the summer to better prepare for supporting students this fall, whether they’re returning to school buildings or continuing to learn remotely.

Perhaps the qualitative data is showing a higher number of students being impacted by trauma related to the pandemic. Convene with your team to decide whether it’s time to invest in more professional development or hire more specialized staff.

#5: Make sure it lives with other whole child data

Qualitative data should not exist in a vacuum or silo. Ideally, your platform should be able to house all of your students’ academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and cultural data in one place—including both quantitative and qualitative data.

This will allow you to review all of the pieces together to get a more complete picture of each student. You’ll be able to observe social-emotional data alongside performance measures, providing you with a better indicator of overall student health.

If your system doesn’t currently allow for a whole-child view of your students, talk to your team and/or administrators to determine if this is an issue that could be resolved before the start of the new school year.

Renaissance: Bringing together quantitative and qualitative data

To sum up, qualitative data provides critical insights into your students’ needs. When documented correctly, the data can live as part of the whole child picture and be analyzed like any other data.

Qualitative data can also help you align resources now and strategize for the coming year in terms of programming, professional learning, and more.

Renaissance’s eduCLIMBER platform provides a holistic view of the whole child, including quantitative and qualitative academic, social-emotional learning, behavioral, and intervention data. With eduCLIMBER, you can easily and accurately identify student needs in real time through current and historic data that shows where each student may be struggling.

Connect with an expert to learn more about eduCLIMBER and other Renaissance solutions built for today’s classrooms.

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