Data Driven Differentiation in the Standards-Based Classroom


Gayle H. Gregory & Lin Kuzmich

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    When we began teaching, back when the Earth was cooling, there were no standards. We were given a piece of paper with a few math facts and another with social studies topics relating to the neighborhood for Gayle’s Grade 3/4 classroom and for Lin’s PreK to 12 reading and special education students. We had limited training as to what and how we were to teach. Basically, we built the road as we traveled through the curriculum, more “by gosh and by golly” than with intention.

    We wanted to do the best for our students, but there were few guidelines, and our lack of experience left us little to draw on. Gayle realized that even though she had won the top teaching award out of 875 graduates at her university, in the classroom, she didn’t even know what she didn’t know. Lin struggled to find assessments and to figure out how to meet the needs of struggling adolescents, many of whom had initial versions of Individualized Education Plans. Even with some information about her students, Lin was not really certain what the objectives were for other classes. At that time, the targets for learning were inconsistent or just not in place at all. The Common Core and other State Standards available to us now provide welcome guidelines to help teachers know where they are going and how to judge success, both for themselves and for their students.

    Intuitively, we did our best to integrate learning around themes, as that seemed to be a way to engage students and tie the curriculum together. However, instructional units were designed not around standards (as we had none) but rather around neat learning activities. We also lacked assessment strategies, so we didn’t always know what students knew or could do. We planned great units of study, but the wrong students came. They were in different places than we thought they might be, and they had different interests, capabilities, and intelligences. Or we had a great lesson plan, but it just didn’t work for some of our students. Gayle didn’t have enough tools and information about learning in her repertoire to do much more than “say it louder and slower one more time” when students had difficulty, but that method often didn’t work. Of course, whether it worked was not really an issue then because there was little accountability at that time. Teachers taught, and the students’ job was to learn. Lin’s first experience with other content-area teachers and their reactions to her students was disappointing. It was hard for content-trained teachers to account for differences in reading and writing skills. We simply had not been taught those strategies. Teachers really had little inclination and few resources to persevere until all students learned.

    Thankfully, we had a group of committed, seasoned teachers at hand in those first schools who were generous and encouraging and who shared materials and strategies with us. Today, we are fortunate to have both standards that clearly show us the target and a set of solid, research-based instructional techniques and assessment tools to facilitate learning for a diverse group of learners. Gayle’s daughter and son-in-law are teachers at the beginning of their careers, and she has watched with interest as they continue to evolve in their new roles. They have the advantage of “beginning with the end in mind,” with standards to guide their thinking and planning. Their knowledge base and skill development in teaching are ever-expanding in relation to the diverse group of students they serve. Special education students, students with emotional and behavioral disorders, students learning English as a second language, and multiple other groups of students are in their classrooms, and they are constantly trying to respond to the complexity of the mix with varying approaches to teaching and learning. Standardized tests are also a reality for them and cannot be ignored. They see the stress this testing creates for students and parents, but they also know that there are so many other worthwhile facets of the assessment process that inform them about students and their progress.

    As an assistant superintendent, Lin faced the challenge of continual updates about the latest regulations, rules, and legislation affecting schools. Teachers, too, face new pressures and dilemmas as they try to meet the needs of diverse students. Lin’s talented staff were far more prepared to meet current challenges; yet even with all the excellent training available to them, they continued to have questions. In Lin’s district, hardworking teachers, committed administrators, and a supportive board of education were all trying to make the right choices for students. While we know so much more about learning, questions still remain about where and how to focus our precious time with students and still meet the high criteria for accountability. With such limited time and resources, how can staff make the best choices for students with very different needs and styles?

    This book is our attempt to help all teachers and administrators make sense of planning from standards, differentiating learning for the diversity in their classrooms, and using the data that they collect from their students. We would have been so grateful all those years ago to know what we know now. It is an exciting time to be in education with all that we have discovered and researched in the last forty years. Teaching truly is an art and a science. We believe the creativity of great teachers mixed with the knowledge and skills we now have make our profession a challenging and exciting one both for teachers and for students.


    This book was written by two educators who have spent many years in schools “trying to get it right.” Gayle Gregory and Lin Kuzmich both are teachers and practitioners at heart and have worked with teachers, administrators, and students over the years in a variety of roles and grade levels. The Common Core State Standards and STAAR provided us with a more common road map so we know where to start and where we will end and are better able to plan a successful journey for diverse learners. Our interest in this topic is an evolving quest to help teachers work with standards to plan assessment, curriculum, instruction, and learning standards that address the diversity in classrooms today so that all children may learn to their fullest potential.

    We would like to acknowledge all those other talented and committed educators who have challenged our thinking and helped clarify our ideas based on sound research and practice.

    We have been enlightened and influenced by great thinkers, including Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, Daniel Goleman, Art Costa, Bob Garmstom, Pat Wolfe, Robert Sylwester, Barbara Givens, David Sousa, Tony Gregorc, Carol Rolheiser, Bob Marzano, Jay McTighe, Carol Ann Tomlinson, Pam Robbins, Heidi Hayes Jacob, Grant Wiggins, Richard Stiggins, Doug Reeves, Linda Elder, and Richard Paul.

    We wish to thank Faye Zucker for her support, advice, patience, encouragement, and sense of humor during the writing process for the first edition.

    Finally, we extend our gratitude to our husbands, Joe and Steve, and to our children for their patience and understanding about the time this venture took from “family hour.” We could not accomplish anything worthwhile without their love and support.

    It is our hope and desire that this book will be a helpful, insightful addition to the libraries of teachers, administrators, and other educators and an integral part of their planning and thinking as they design learning for all children so that all may learn and reach their potential.

    Corwin and the authors extend their thanks to the following reviewers for their contributions to this volume:

    • Kathleen Chamberlain, PhD, Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA
    • Steve Hutton, Elementary School Principal, Villa Hills, KY
    • Mildred Murray-Ward, PhD, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA
    • Maria Elena Reyes, PhD, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK

    About the Authors

    Gayle H. Gregory has been a teacher in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. For many years, she taught in schools with extended periods of instructional time (block schedules). She has had extensive districtwide experience as a curriculum consultant and staff development coordinator. She was course director at York University for the Faculty of Education, teaching in the teacher education program. She now consults internationally (Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australia) with teachers, administrators, and staff developers in the areas of managing change, differentiated instruction, brain-compatible learning, block scheduling, emotional intelligence, instructional and assessment practices, cooperative group learning, presentation skills, renewal of secondary schools, enhancing teacher quality, coaching and mentoring, and facilitating large-scale change. She has done extensive writing and planning related to Common Core State Standards. She is the author of Differentiated Instructional Strategies Professional Learning Guide: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (third edition) and the coauthor of Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (third edition); Designing Brain-Compatible Learning; Thinking Inside the Block Schedule: Strategies for Teaching in Extended Periods of Time; and many others. She has been featured in Video Journal of Education’s best-selling elementary and secondary videos, Differentiating Instruction to Meet the Needs of All Learners. Gayle is committed to lifelong learning and professional growth for herself and others. She may be contacted by e-mail at Her website is

    Lin Kuzmich is an educational consultant, university instructor, and bestselling author from Loveland, Colorado. She served Thompson School District in several roles as the assistant superintendent, executive director of secondary and elementary instruction, director of professional development, and as a building principal for nine years. Her school was named a 2000 winner of the John R. Irwin Award for Academic Excellence and Improvement. In addition, for the past decade, Lin was involved in staff development through several universities and the Tointon Institute for Educational Change. She served as an instructor at Colorado State University in the Principal Preparation Program and as senior consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Lin provides training and coaching to school districts and educators internationally. She also presents at numerous national and international conferences. Lin was a longtime teacher. She taught special education and reading PreK through Grade 12, high school reading, and middle school English/language arts, and secondary social studies, and she was also an elementary school classroom teacher, earning the Teacher of the Year Award for Denver Public Schools in 1979. In 2000, Lin earned Northern Colorado Principal of the Year for Colorado Association of School Executives. Lin currently works with schools and districts across the country and internationally that are struggling to meet the needs of diverse learners, the requirements of adequate yearly progress (AYP), and the changing educational practices needed for the future success of our students. She has worked extensively with districts trying to understand the new Common Core State Standards (and STAAR in Texas), update curriculum, and create appropriate assessment and instruction to address the increased rigor. Lin’s work with schools improves achievement results for students and increases the capacity of staff, and she is passionate about helping educators prepare today’s students for a successful future. Lin may be contacted at or through her website,

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