Why I am Such a Data Hound

18 Sep

Yes, I am. Most special ed. teachers in the county know it and I’m sure I am the butt of many jokes because of it. I have worked over many a SLP, OT and even the PT folks about data, or more likely, the lack of it. They travel around to different schools, so word gets out. I travel to different schools occasionally, and may get up on the data-high-horse if I’m feeling particularly brash. and of course, my own kids have different teachers every year so the infamy spreads far and wise.

I wasn’t always this way. However, very early on in my Master’s program I had an instructor who was teaching applied behavior analysis and something clicked. I did several mini-interventions, kept track of my data points and was delighted to see when things worked. Since I was using behavioral interventions, that was most of the time. B. F. Skinner once joked about how behaviorists were always in a better mood than any other psychological clinicians because their stuff was working and they knew it! Keeping score is the best and most efficient way of knowing if what you are doing is working.

However, the pretest, post test model that NCLB currently relies on to keep score is highly flawed. The biggest problem I have with it is that it takes only one measurement per year (at most). What if the child isn’t learning and the score goes down? You have no idea, until the next year! An entire year could be going down the drain. Fortunately, most good teachers actually assess as they go along on a regular basis. At least when it comes to spelling or reading or writing or mathematics. However, when it comes to behavior, no one seems to keep track of much of anything. Getting teachers to do it is like pulling teeth. The thing is, behavior plays a huge and crucial part of what goes on within a classroom. There is not a teacher alive who will tell you that classroom conduct and behavior are not important. There’s enough examples of what happens when the behaviors get out of control. They can make a teacher’s life miserable! It is the bane of most brand new teachers and all of the substitutes. Ask a sub what makes for a bad experience: Is it kids who can’t read? Is it kids who can’t add? Is it kids who are less than bright? No, it is kids who misbehave!

Just like academics, tracking behavior is the key to working on it. You track reading or spelling performance and hopefully want to see signs of improvement. Same goes with behavior. And this means keeping some sort of data on a regular basis.

I’m trying to work with Thomas’ para and gently ease her into the role of data collector as well as facilitator. My operatives at his school tell me that there is a significant amount of hovering going on, which is what most paras do when they don’t know what else to do. Their main qualification is that they care. Caring is important, but paras deserve to have more knowledge and tools at their disposal which means some investment of time and yes, money. Training materials and trainers cost money. I’ve learned over the years that a modest investment in equipping paras pays huge dividends in how the students are treated and the advancements they make. Unfortunately my data lacks sufficient fidelity and reliability measures to get published, but I have results that show students doubling their level of independence simply by virtue of having a trained para versus an untrained one. You see what a bit of data can do? I can show the effectiveness of what a person is doing. Or it can show that things need to be done differently. For instance, we had been taking data on Spaz for years and years and had notice little appreciable change in the number of agressive (pinch, kick, hit, spit, scratch, grab) behaviors per day. It was all over the place and variable depending on the season, the day, and the phases of the moon, or so it seemed. We were getting no where. I did a full-blown FBA and started working on everything I could think of to bring him around.

With an erratic data path, it’s hard to see anything at all. He might only scratch and kick 5 times one day but then be up to 50 times the next and then back down into the 20’s and 30’s for a few days before depressing and spiking. The Excel trendline showed that there was a slightest of inclines in the data path. I stayed with it. His neurologist stayed with it along with me, loving my graphs. Then we hit paydirt. Something happened that we would never have anticipated. Spaz discovered friends. He liked having friends and wanted friends. Especially girlfriends. And we noticed that his aggression began plummeting when we had some higher functioning girls around who volunteered to help with some of the wheelchair kids. We heaped on other rewards, too, but that was the turn. Those girls wouldn’t have anything to do with him if he was being aggressive, but once he found his charm, he discovered his social life improved dramatically.

Now it comes to me, I might be able to use that for a few other things with him.

The point of this was that just the exercise of keeping behavioral data put me in tune with what was going on throughout the day. I was able to see changes much quicker than doing an annual assessment, and if I could spot a trend early, I could either promote or suppress things in the environment to enhance positive change. A body can not do that if they are unaware of what is going on. Keeping data is the way to increase awareness. Ideally, a teacher could do this everyday on every student. But that’s not realistic, especially in a class of 25+. This is why having trained paras is important because they can help with this while a teacher is delivering instruction.

Here’s a shocker: I don’t really take data at home. I have tried to track some things that happen or don’t happen, but for the most part, I believe home should be more relaxed. I do keep a strict record of finances, but not of behaviors of my family. The idiot assistant principal at that last meeting actually suggested that I take data at home so they wouldn’t have to do it at school. Problem is, talking out, being out of his seat, bothering classmates, not doing schoolwork, being off task….anyone else see a problem with keeping track of these behaviors (which the school is complaining about) at home? What an idiot. God help the school she ever becomes principal for. But at school, as a teacher, I am a voracious data collector. With the kids I have, it is the only way to know anything.

One last thing about data collection, and why I like it:

In addition to paras and teachers improving what they do simply by virtue of keeping track, this also applies to students, themselves. Students can actually be trained to monitor their own behavior, and this is actually the ideal. Then all the teacher or para has to do is occasionally check for reliability and provide feedback. The functional goal of any behavioral program is to teach students to monitor and regulate their own behavior. Teaching them to keep their own data is an efficient way to do this. But teachers who don’t know how to take behavioral data will have a difficult time training their students to do it just like a teacher who can’t add will have difficulty teaching math to students.

I know some of you who are also closet data hounds. Any of you bloggers out there check your stats? Better yet, any bloggers who do not check your stats?

‘Nuff said!




I don’t know whty, but I just wanted to link to an autism resource where other data hounds exist.  So here you go!!



5 Responses to “Why I am Such a Data Hound”

  1. Leslie Summers September 19, 2006 at 7:45 am #

    Just found your site! I’m the mother of a 10 year old with Auditory Processing Disorder. Our school’s pyschologist is now “gathering data” (on task behavior on my son) because they just placed a new Sound Field System in his homeroom class. He’ll be comparing this data to the data he’s going to gather in his other classroom where there’s no Sound Field System. It should be interesting.

    I just want you to know how much I appreciate you. I can relate to so many things that you’ve posted. You’ve got a great sense of humor and I look forward to reading your future posts.

    Thanks, from Leslie in Oklahoma

  2. Dick Dalton September 19, 2006 at 12:21 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I do learn something everyday, and your comment had me scampering off to learn a bit more about APD and the sound field amplification system. If the system can be turned off, it moght also be useful to test it out in the same class in the same room over a period of time and take data on this. Changing room and classes sort of confounds any results of the psychologists datat collection. And this is important research for the school, because they are contemplating whether or not to buy these for most classrooms. They aren’t cheap! i looked at an FM system that looked a kind of portable. Switching this btween classes would also lend itself to a better data set.

    But it does sound interesting!


  3. Melissa June 11, 2007 at 4:13 pm #


    I am a behavior consultant for a local school district and I am trying to find a good, computerized data collection system for our behavior classrooms. I know how to use Excel and create graphs, but I am wondering if you have a special database that you use to expediate the process (or do you create your graphs individually each time)? Any info you have to share would be great!

    Thanks, Melissa

  4. Dick June 11, 2007 at 10:29 pm #

    My graphs are pretty much done individually each time. If you can get a decent template, it is just a matter of manually entering the data, which many paras are able and willing to do, if you have one.

    You might ask one of those bahavior analysts on my blogroll, though. They are some top notch people.



  1. EBDblog » Data’s value - September 21, 2006

    […] Over on The Life that Chose Me Dick has lots of good posts. Dick, who’s both a parent of a child with disabilities and a teacher of students with disabilities, has two recents posts about the value of collecting data about individuals’ behavior that are well worth reading. They illustrate the utility of having data to make decisions and foster communication. Check out his Why I am Such a Data Hound and Perils of Data Collection. […]

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