Monday, June 25, 2012

Data Collection

One of the things that no one every told me how to do when I began teaching Special Education upteen-thousand years ago was how to collect data.  Don't get me wrong, my undergrad classes emphasized the importance of data collection.  Those classes just never taught me HOW to collect data.  Through the years, I have realized that I am not the only one out there struggling.  Some of my district peers don't do it at all.  I don't think it is because they don't care, I think it is that they just don't know how to get started.

Since my first day in the classroom I have collected data, but it has been very haphazard.  For years, I knew that if someone had to come in and pick up where I left off, they would wonder what all those scraps of paper were on my desk!  Writing progress reports or report cards was horribly painful.  My husband always hated the week before report cards went out, because our dining room (not just the table, but the floor as well) would be COVERED with paper.  I would be so frustrated & cranky that its a wonder he never ran out of the room screaming!

By a stroke of luck 3 years ago, I finally figured out the data collection mystery.  It was a huge amount of trial and error those first few weeks in my new classroom.  I don't have a clue why after all these years, it finally clicked, but it did.

Here's what I finally figured out:
    1.  Just do it!  (make the time & just write it down)
    2.  Not everything has to look the same
    3.  Make sure it is idiot proof (no offense to subs, but a sub in a special ed class is already shell-
         shocked, so don't over do it with a complicated process)
    4.  Make it as convenient as possible (make sure you have a place to write it down with as much pre-
         filled in as possible & something to write with--don't laugh, you'd be surprised!)

Once I figured that out, it was easier to actually collect the data in a way that would work for me.

I think this was the most difficult thing for me to overcome.  I always thought that when it came to data collection that 1, single format would do.  Not sure why, but for years it was what I tried to do.  I only collected data on a single skill.  If I had a kid whose IEP dictated that they work on letter identification, I was a champ at collecting that data...on sticky notes...or...note cards...that would then get lost in the pile that would always over-take my desk.

But when I had behavior goals to address on an IEP...DOCUMENT?  Seriously???  How in the world do you do that?  I had no clue.  It was obvious that the kid was making progress on the goal, but if I had ever been called out on my documentation, I would have been hard pressed to provide ANYTHING!  I could provide behavior contracts for some kids, but only a few.

Moving to an Autistic class forced me to address my inability to handle these situations.  Let's face it, 90% of an autistic class is behavioral.  I was really going to have to step up my game.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I found a few data sheets that I used for a while.

Just a little while was all I could manage, because it still wasn't working for me.  How was I going to do this?  I had 2 kids in my room that first year whose parents scared me.  (You know what I mean)  I wanted to be on point if I was ever asked to provide my documentation.  How was I going to do that?  I decided to do what I do with my kids.  I worked backward.  What was I trying to get out of my data collection?  I wanted to be able to support my IEP goals.  Once I figured that out, it was a little easier for me.

Once I figured out what I wanted to obtain, it was only a matter of figuring out how to go about collecting the data.

Not everything has to look the same...
I was trying to fit everyone into the same data collection box.  I don't do that with my kids.  They all have different schedules and work stations.  Why do they all have to have the same data collection process?  They don't.  It was amazing how freeing that thought was!  Can't believe it took me so long to come to that conclusion!

The data sheets I found online were great for some skills, but not for others.  So I began to play with my own.  I decided what worked best from each of the ones I had been using.

First & foremost, time!  I needed to be able to document on the fly, because coming back to something in my class is a luxury I just couldn't afford.  I also needed to be able to have it readily accessible, because if it wasn't, I wasn't going to get it down.  (see aforementioned statement)

Second, simplicity, anyone needed to be able to do it:  Me, my TA, a sub, my teammate, the Art teacher.  I had to make it as simple as possible, so I didn't have to stop and explain or have to go without.

The one thing that is on each of my data sheets, regardless of what it looks like, is a key.  That way, I don't spend time explaining everything when there isn't time.

Everywhere in my room, you will find pens!  They are velcroed to the underside of bookshelves (so they don't end up in someone's mouth).  They are in containers around the room, I always have at least 2 stuffed in my back pockets, they are everywhere.  I decided a long time ago that I liked colored pens.  It makes it easier for me to compile data at the end of the quarter/skill/IEP process when they are colored.  Looking at only black ink can make my eyes hurt & then I loose track of where I was.  Colored ink makes compilation much faster.

Placement of the data sheets is important too.  For years I always tried to keep everything all together in a notebook, a rolodex, a notecard box, a single clipboard and many other places.  That was INSANE!  It was never where I needed it to be, when I needed it to be.  Now, I have data sheets taped to the backs of file folders, the bottoms of tasks and the bookshelf.  I have multiple clipboards now.  My ABC documentation is next to my timeout area, because I usually have to sit with someone to keep them in timeout.  My group documentation is in the large group area, teacher time data is taped to the folder that each student's work is organized in for 1:1 time.

Life is so much easier now and report cards are less nerve racking!  In hindsight, this seems so easy, but it was the most difficult thing I have ever had to learn in Special Ed.!  I feel great about my data collection now.  I am no longer scared to send report cards/progress reports home to "those" parents anymore.  I have a TON of documentation to support my comments now!

Lesson learned!  (I will post some examples of my data sheets and "hiding" places in my next post)


  1. Great post! I'm bookmarking it. I wasn't taught much about the hows of data collection in school, either. I wonder why it is so overlooked...


    1. Thanks Kara! If we could figure that out, maybe we could do something about it!

  2. Thanks Kara! I have no idea why is wasn't taught. A lot of the classes I had in undergrad were taught by professors who had day jobs as SPED teachers. Maybe they were never taught how to do it either. They knew enough to say it needed to be done, but maybe not enough to know how.

    I don't know about you, but when I first started teaching, we weren't required to write progress reports on IEP goals. It wasn't until the end of my 2nd year that IDEA was re-authorized and written notice was included in the re-authorization. Even then, it was another year or 2 before we had to be up to compliance in NC. It seems that just now people have begun to ask the questions about what we are using to support IEP goals.

  3. I have no idea how I missed this blog post, but it is a GREAT post! This is random, but I really like your idea of velcro-ing pens under bookshelves and such to ensure that you always have one. As of right now, I'm very happy with my binder with grid sheets of each students' goals and I document daily, weekly, as needed, etc. their progress toward each goal. It is sooo much better than my first year of teaching. Like you said, before data collecting you KNEW the kids are making progress but you just didn't know how much or how to show it. Now righting IEP goal reviews is soo much easier! Thanks for the great post!

    I'm in the process of writing a post awarding you with The Versatile Blogger award, stop on by and see it on's taking me awhile to write the post, and I'm timing it to post tomorrow cause I don't want to double post today:-D

    We are ALL Special!

    1. Thanks Karlie! You just have to find what works best for you.

  4. Thank you for the great ideas.... I am spending some time this summer changing up the way I document some things.

  5. No problem. I am trying to finish my follow-up post, so maybe you will get even more ideas to help you!

  6. This is great! I'm going into my second year as a Sped teacher and data collection is my "summer project" (.. that I still haven't started!) This gave me some great places to start! I wish we could leave pens everywhere! I wear an apron instead. If we were to leave pens around our kids would gather them up and probably have them in a perfectly straight line in minutes AY AY AY! :)

  7. Just found your post and I so needed to read it. Documentation is something that makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I still haven't found forms that "fit." This has been an area that I have been researching over my summer break. Do you have a copy of your data sheets on your blog? If not, may I have a copy of the data sheets you use? Thanks again!!

    Teaching Special Kiddos

  8. Sorry, I forgot to leave my email address. It is Thanks again!!

  9. Absolutely Kimberly! I am in the process of moving, so when I find my flash drives, I will forward them to you.