3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Benchmark Data This Fall

A screenshot from an infographic showing an illustrated building with several data icons around it.

Benchmark assessment results are full of insights that can help both staff and students start the year strong. One of the biggest challenges for today’s administrators is how to maximize the value of these benchmark data insights and avoid the trap of becoming data-rich, but information-poor.

Here’s how one leading superintendent is being strategic about his district’s data to maximize learning outcomes this fall.

1. Ramp up equitable differentiation

The sooner you can enable your teachers with the information they need to deliver targeted support in each student’s zone of proximal development, the sooner students can benefit. Benchmark data is great for this purpose: it can indicate each student’s initial learning level, inform goal setting for the time between assessments, and measure how much progress has been made since the last assessment.

Students learning at different levels based on data reports

Dr. William Gideon, Interim Superintendent at Los Nietos School District in CA, has been recognized as a rising leader in education for his work to equip his team with the resources they need to support their district’s early education priorities. He shares benchmark data with Los Nietos principals, teachers, and staff so they can create tiers of instructional support in and out of the classroom.


“Benchmark data is extremely important to our plans for ensuring equitable student achievement. For example, teachers will use the data to create Tier II in-classroom support for reading. The District Instructional Resource Teachers will use the data for creating Tier III pull-out support for students needing intensive reading assistance.”

– Dr. William Gideon, Interim Superintendent at Los Nietos School District


Some instructional tools now include the ability to import your school’s benchmark data at the start of the school year and automatically set each student’s level accordingly, adapting upwards or downwards as the student continues learning. Programs with this capability can save your teachers time but also standardize data-driven differentiation across all your classrooms for a more equitable learning environment off the bat.

2. Get ahead of the curve with PD and resources for teachers

Benchmark assessments aren’t just helpful for understanding what’s going on with your students – they can also give insights into where your teachers need more support. By looking for answers in the data, you can get ahead of the curve and provide resources early in the year so your teachers and students can reap the benefits all year long.

Dr. Gideon notes that his district’s implementation of the Science of Reading theory was informed heavily by their benchmark results.


“Based on our data, we noticed the need to provide additional support to our students in the specific area of reading. Thus, we looked into providing teachers with the resources needed in order to teach the foundational skills of reading. It is essential that teachers feel supported from an instructional as well as resources stand-point.”

– Dr. William Gideon, Interim Superintendent at Los Nietos School District


Professional development and positivity at school

Don’t forget to utilize a strength-based approach and also look for things that are going well – celebrating success will be just as beneficial to your team as surfacing areas for improvement. NWEA gives more suggestions here on how to ensure you have intentional, productive, and collaborative conversations about data with your team.

3. Establish a more holistic approach to progress monitoring

Dr. Gideon emphasizes that while his team uses benchmark data in an informational manner to predict student success on state assessments, it’s important to remember that achievement data only provides a snapshot in time – it does not define a student’s ability to learn.


“The most common mistake is that assessment data is used to determine a student’s potential. Assessment data should be looked upon as information that helps educators refine their instructional approach and serves as a tool to communicate with students, as well as parents, on areas of needed growth.”

– Dr. William Gideon, Interim Superintendent at Los Nietos School District


Enabling your teachers with the ability to correlate multiple data points from formative, interim, and summative assessments all together will provide a more holistic picture of student progress and ensure that students are not boxed in based on one data point.

Venn diagram showing overlap between formative, interim, and summative assessments

Some benchmark assessments provide separate metrics for growth and achievement, like Renaissance Star’s measure of student growth percentile (SGP). Student achievement indicates whether performance is at, above, or below grade level expectations, while growth shows achievement over time. When used together, they give even greater context on academic progress than tracking just one or the other.


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