Recently, in one of my classes, we had a debate regarding the importance of data collection in the classroom. Everyone had varying opinions on the importance of data, but one of my classmates was adamant in her stance:
I’m totally against taking data. I don’t see the point. It’s too time consuming and it’s time better spent with my students. I know if my kids are doing better or if they need help. I don’t need data to tell me this.
I should start by saying (in case this teacher is reading this) that I have a lot of respect her. She works with a tough population, is passionate about her work, and isn’t afraid to express her opinions.
Having said this. I disagree. Strongly.
I’ve worked with a lot of teachers over the years and have heard similar sentiments. Many teachers note that data collection is “too time consuming” explaining “I have a classroom full of students, I can’t take data on just one.”
I sympathize with teachers. Clearly the profession has changed in recent years. Classrooms are packed. My sister, a fifth grade teacher, has nearly 40 students, some with IEP’s, in her classroom. I get it. There’s not a lot of extra time. Teachers are often stretched to the limits. When a behavior analyst or school psychologist requests data, it’s understandable that a teacher may view this task as unrealistic or even unnecessary.
However, I think many teachers aversion to data collection- especially regarding behavior- is not purely the result of a lack of time. Rather, it’s a lack of training.
I’ve taken roughly 14 graduate special education courses; not one of them has discussed anything other than ABC data collection and even that is vague, usually lumped into a general discussion about classroom management. In my experience, few teachers understand how to objectively define antecedents, behaviors and consequences. Furthermore, many teachers aren’t taught what to do with data once it’s collected: how to interpret it, how to display it, how to develop interventions using it. Considering the importance of data- both from a legal and professional standpoint- it’s unfortunate that graduate programs don’t emphasize the importance of training teachers in this area.
Data is important. It allows us to see exactly how often a student is engaging in a behavior, for how long they are doing it, the time of day they are likely to engage in a behavior. Let’s say that a student is swearing 500 times a day and we create an intervention that drops it down to 230 times per-day (a pretty significant change). One teacher might say the intervention isn’t working because the student is still swearing a lot. However, our numbers tell us different.
Data allows us to remove subjectivity. We might have two teachers collect data on a student’s behavior and compare the results (inter-observer agreement). It helps us track a student’s behavioral trends across a variety of different settings. Data helps us identify potential antecedents and reinforcing consequences for certain behaviors. It’s essential to get good data if we intend to develop effective interventions.
How can we have a behavior intervention plan if we don’t have the data?
I’ve seen some behavior plans that rely, almost exclusively, on indirect methods of assessment. Methods such as “interviewing the classroom teacher and parents, reviewing school records, completing behavior rating scales [and] checklists” (Overton, p. 321).
While these methods can be helpful in gathering some base information, “reliability is usually poor and…should never be considered [an effective] functional assessment” (Starin 2011).
As Dr. Stephen Starin (2011) notes, “a more reliable method [of observation] involves directly observing the person’s behavior in his or her natural environment” and analyzing the antecedents and consequences that immediately precede and follow the behavior respectively.
Additionally, Dr. Starin (2011) mentions the importance of having individuals who have “been thoroughly trained on collecting and analyzing the information (i.e., data)” carry out the direct observation. Unfortunately, most teachers aren’t trained to do so.
Graduate coursework-in my opinion- should include more assessment work; more focus on data collection and the importance of direct methods of data collection. Reliance on indirect methods (e.g., teacher or parents anecdotal reporting), while beneficial for gauging a starting point for more direct methods of data collection, should not be the sole method for measuring student progress (or lack thereof). There’s too much room for bias, subjectivity and inaccuracy. Numbers don’t lie, but teachers need to be trained to effectively collect and interpret data.
Zachary Ikkanda is a Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) who has been working with children with autism for 10 years. Mr. Ikkanda has worked in educational and clinical settings in California and New York, utilizing the principles of behavior and B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior. Currently, Mr. Ikkanda serves as a therapist and consultant developing home and school based educational and behavioral interventions for children with Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders. He is a member of the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis, the Council for Exceptional Children and the Association for Behavior Analysis International. Mr. Ikkanda is currently pursuing a masters of science in childhood special education, with a focus on behavioral disorders, at Hunter College in New York. You can visit his blog at: www.zachikkanda.com
Overton, T. (2008). Assessing learners with special needs, an applied approach. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson College Div.
Starin, S. (2011, January 31). Functional behavior assessments:what,why,when,where,and who? . Retrieved from http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/discipl.fab.starin.htm