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Lesson 2: Concerns about Data Collection and Observation

Since data collection and observation techniques are being used to make educational decisions, the accuracy of the information is important. The data which is collected must also be meaningful and must reflect realistic activities which occur in the classroom or be related to a student's success. Finally, data collection and observation must be done in such a way that it does not interfere with the instructional process in the classroom.


It is important that the information collected be as accurate as possible. In order to be accurate, the procedure must minimize the chance for errors and observer bias.


Behavior observation techniques involve taking a sample of student behavior. The observation method should be one which can to carried out reliably from one time to the next. The teacher and para should be confident that the results of the observation reflect the actual behavior of the student being observed. In other words, if you repeated the observation at a different time would the results remain similar.

Ease of Measurement

The accuracy of an observation is often affected by the how easy it is to determine exactly whether a behavior has occurred. If the observer is required to provide insight, interpretation and/or judgment it is probably too difficult to accurately record what occurs.

The following provide some example of observations which might lend themselves to accurate measurement:

The following are observations which are more difficult to make because they require more judgment on the observers part.

Ease of Recording

Accuracy also requires that the observer have a systematic way to record and report information. The system for recording the results of the observation must contain enough information so that the observation is useful but must not be so complicated that it interferes with the observation.

Techniques to Improve Accuracy

Techniques which have been used to improve the accuracy of data collection and behavior observation include:

  1. Clear description of observation procedure,
  2. Clear specification of behaviors to be observed,
  3. An established scoring and recording system, and
  4. Opportunity for the observer to learn and practice the observation technique.

Meaningfulness of Observations

The second major concern with data collection and behavior observation is that the behaviors being observed and the techniques used must provide teachers with information that is relevant and useful.

Relationship to True Activities/Objectives/Outcomes

Care must be taken to select behaviors which are relevant to the instructional process. Often the usefulness of the performance or behavior data is determined by how relevant the observed behaviors are to the objectives of the instructional program.


The observation method utilized must be sensitive to changes in the frequency or the amount of behavior. The time allotted for the observation must be sufficient to observe the behavior occur.

Observation Under Appropriate Conditions

Student performance and behavior can vary markedly depending on the setting. Behaviors on the playground may be much different than during a classroom activity. An important element in obtaining a meaningful observation is choosing the appropriate setting for the observation and describing the conditions under which the observation occurred. This description of conditions is often necessary to interpret information correctly.

Measurement of Performance Not Disability or Other Factors

The teacher must carefully select the performance criteria or behavior to be observed to reflect student knowledge or skills. Performance should not be affected by some extraneous variable or condition which is not of immediate interest. For example, choosing number of words written correctly during a timed spelling test might be a poor way to measure spelling performance in a student with motor coordination problems. It would be difficult to determine whether the student did not know the spelling or whether they were unable to correctly write the words in the time provided.

Comparisons of Performance

Tests, particularly achievement tests, are often used to compare a students performance with other students. This can be done because all students have done the same activities under the same conditions. Data collection and behavior observation in the classroom often occur under a wide variety of conditions with a limited number of students. The information collected is often used to verify whether a student is meeting a specified criteria rather than to make comparisons with other students. Data may also be collected a number of times on the same student as a means of measuring progress. When comparisons are important in order to make data more meaningful, observations may also be made on a number of other students in the same setting.

Interference/Integration with the Instructional Process

The last concern with data collection and behavior observation is that it coexists gracefully with the instructional process in the classroom. Often teachers include data collection and behavior observation as an integral part of the instructional process itself. Teachers, paraeducators, and students themselves are involved in gathering data about their performance as part of the instructional process. Consider the following when collecting behavior and/or performance data.