Tool for the Field: Types of Data

When you record data as a paraprofessional, you are recording it so you can share it with your supervising teacher or the whole instructional team.  It is critical to record the data in a clear, understandable, and useful way. Understanding what the data represent—what they’re looking at—can help you record them in clear, understandable, and useful ways. Increasing (or decreasing) particular behaviors relies on repeated measurements of how often the behaviors occur, how long they last, or how strong they are.

Different types of data are collected in different ways. For your future reference, here is a list of common ways for collecting and reporting data.

Frequency data

“Frequency” just means how often—in a given time period (for example, 10 minutes or 20 minutes). You just count how often the behavior happens in that time period.

Proportion data

A “proportion” is a comparison. We all know that 70% is a low grade in school—in comparison to the 100% that is supposedly perfect. When a student gets a 70% on a test, for instance, it means that he or she has gotten 70 out of 100 questions correct (so long as the questions are equally weighted). It’s a proportion. If the test has 10 questions, then getting 7 correct is equivalent to getting 70% correct. Here’s how proportion data can be used when observing behavior. Let’s say a student has 10 planned opportunities to point correctly to an object on the desk. If he points correctly half the time, the proportion is 50% (5/10). This measurement involves frequency, but the frequency is judged against a benchmark (in this case: 10 opportunities to look at the object). By the way: “50%” does not mean the student fails! It just means there’s plenty of room for improvement. In other words, “50%” is not a grade!

Duration data

As soon as you start observing behaviors, you find that there’s a time issue! Behaviors last for longer and shorter times. The Activity for this unit took this fact into account in defining “significant” off-task behavior as lasting for at least 5 seconds. It had to last at least that long to be counted. But the data-collection might be arranged differently: you could count every instance but also record how long the behavior lasted. If you want to measure on-task behavior (rather than off-task behavior), then measuring duration can be very helpful. For example, if a student is learning to sit still and listen to a story from start to finish, you might measure, each day, how long she can manage to sit still during the reading of the story. Of course, the stories that are read each day need to be of comparable length. (This observation illustrates that getting good data can indeed to tricky!)

Intensity data

In addition to being frequent or infrequent, or lasting a short or long while, a behavior can also be described as being more or less intense. A child’s tantrum might be more or less noisy for instance. You could measure the noise level scientifically with an electronic instrument, of course. And for some students, you might be asked to record information in such a manner. When precision isn’t quite so important, though, you might complete a rating scale—the familiar 1-5 or 1-10 scale. You see the point. Was the tantrum a 1 (a whimper) or a 10 (a howling disaster). Good rating scales can be devised for almost any behavior or condition. But the intensity of the behavior would have to be the concern (possibly in addition to its frequency or duration). For example, medical professionals often ask patients to describe the level of their pain on a 1-10 scale.

Debriefing the Tool

The types of measurements you make to record information about students’ behavior can relate more or less directly to academics. For example, the identification of an object on the desk was an academic task. Duration of listening was indirectly related to academics: students need to pay attention in order to learn. The tantrum was less directly related to academics—but it certainly interrupted academic learning.

The table below lists some behaviors and ways to think about observing them (e.g., frequency, duration, or intensity), indicating if they are directly, indirectly, or very indirectly related to academics.

Table: Different Kinds of Behavior as Related to Academics

Behavior Direct Indirect Very Indirect
The frequency with which a student reverses b’s and d’s in a writing assignment X
The frequency with which a student gets an 80% correct or better on daily math assignments X
The length of a students’ oral response to a question posed by the teacher X
The duration of a student’s silent reading X
The proportion of times the student opens a book right-side up X
The intensity of a student’ negative reaction to academic feedback X
The proportion of time the student spends on-task rather than off-task X
The frequency with which a student interrupts class discussions with irrelevant outbursts X
The duration of a student’s head-banging X
The intensity of a student’s tantrum X