Data and Statistics for Teachers: Observation, Recordkeeping, and Student Assessment
Educational data and statistics can become disconnected from the teaching experience when standardized or general testing eclipses the Montessori foundation of observation and recordkeeping. Recordkeeping is one of the greatest tools Montessori teachers have to support their roles as observers and guides for students in the classroom. Every child must be considered individually and observed daily to track their developmental skills and progress. Using these observations, the teacher guides students to either the next stage of a 3-period lesson or to new material entirely. These observations and records are part of formative assessment which happens on a daily or weekly basis. Formative assessment gives teachers clues as to where each child should be guided next to ensure their developmental level matches a lesson.
Formative assessment can be structured in a number of ways, but is usually grounded in observation. However, in classrooms with group sizes as large as twenty-five children, a teacher’s memory will be taxed trying to remember each lesson presented. Having written documentation is helpful to recall not only which lesson was presented to which child but also when. Daily observations can be recorded either on paper or digitally. Some schools subscribe to assessment platforms where teachers might be expected to log-in and post observations. Smaller schools will often allow teachers to create their own observation charts and teachers can decide how they prefer to chart their students’ progress: a daily grid with a box for each student, a lesson tracking sheet for each child, or a simple spreadsheet for informal note taking. Schools with Elementary and Secondary programs will often include quizzes and testing as part of formative assessments. These can help teachers judge how well students understand abstract subjects in mathematics and science.
Examples of summative assessments found in Montessori schools range from formal progress reports to rubrics. These broad-view assessments of students' skills are often required in Toddler and Early Childhood programs, as well as in Elementary and Secondary programs. Keeping daily or weekly observation journals in one place will assist greatly in completing these mid-school-year or end-of-year reports. It is helpful to review your school’s assessment sheet in order to tailor your daily observation sheet to the skills measured. This way you will collect the pertinent data. For instance, some assessments might list skipping on an Early Childhood gross motor skills checklist while other schools might not. To ease the burden of having to “test” children at the end of the year, gathering this information informally throughout the year is preferable.
Keeping up to date with formative assessment takes time and practice for the Montessori teacher. A system you developed in one school might not work in a new school. Monthly check-ins with co-teachers or assistants will help you see the gaps in your data collection methods, as well as provide new information about each child. If the end of the week does not lend itself to a fifteen-minute meeting, consider using prep-time or cleanup time one day a week to review your daily observations. If meeting with colleagues is difficult to schedule, ask if administration staff meeting time can be allotted to formative assessment review. This might ease the burden of trying to schedule a time with your co-teacher or assistant during classroom prep or cleanup.
Montessori schools, especially with Elementary and Secondary programs, might participate in standardized testing. If this is the case, ask your administration what the school’s philosophy or approach to this is: do they want teachers to prepare children for the test and if so, how? Some schools will instruct teachers to distribute practice tests while others will form special study groups to prepare children for standardized testing. Either way, administration will be a teacher’s guide on how to introduce standardized testing materials.
A record-keeping routine will help teachers guide students throughout the classroom during the school year. The end-of-year assessments might even be referenced if a student continues in the same school. It’s important to remember, though, that educational data collection sometimes becomes disconnected from human experience. How a teacher interacts and relates to students has been shown to have a direct effect on both student and teacher outcomes. Giving yourself time to review your observations once a month to think about next steps for each child is critical in keeping individual focus and understanding learning styles. This creates a meaningful relationship between teacher and child and parents/guardians. Montessori teachers are on the frontlines of preserving empathy and warmth in education and student assessment. Practicing patience and allotting enough time for observation time will allow you to become an advocate for every single child in your classroom—with the data to support it.
AMS members receive unlimited access to our on demand library of professional development. Learn more about this subject by accessing our video on Developmental Screening and Montessori.
About the Author
V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images. On weekends you can find her gardening, taking nature photos, and working on her garden design certification through the Native Plant Trust.