[ABCs of SPED] Q is for Qualitative & Quantitative Data

abcs of sped Jun 27, 2018

Every week I get on this blog and I scroll back ~15 posts to my list of the full ABCs of SPED. I've gotta see what concept is coming up next!

Each time I feel a sense of hopeful anticipation that the concept for the week is something really fun. Something that I think is super important and fun to write about. Something that will really benefit parents who are trying to improve their child's IEP.

Something like today's concept!

I looked for the Q on my master list (unable to remember what in the world I chose for a letter like Q!) and I had to smile-- you may not think data types are interesting, but this is one of the easiest concepts to understand and one of the easiest ways to fix up a lackluster IEP.

You've gotta know the difference between quantitative and qualitative data.

Let's start from scratch.

Quantitative Data is data based on hard evidence. It is information that is measurable and can be quantified using numbers. That my sister is 5'8" from head to toe is quantitative data about how tall she is. Quantitative data is objective.

Qualitative Data is based on an assessment of characteristics or attributes. This type of data provides information about the qualities of someone or something. Observing that my sister is tall enough to get something out of the cabinet above the fridge is qualitative data about how tall she is. Qualitative data is often subjective.

Maybe you're wondering, "Okay gotcha...but why does this matter?"

Learning the differences between these two types is important because the IEP process is FULL OF DATA. 

Determining eligibility? Gotta look at the data.

The Present Levels of Performance section of the IEP? Nothing but data.

Annual goals? They'll be measured by collecting data.

The decision to do a state or alternate assessment, provide ESY or other accommodations? All based on data.

Because of this, the data collected and reported throughout the IEP process needs to be high quality!

So which type of data do you want or need? Both.

One type of data is not better than another. What is important to remember is that each type of data, on its own, is incomplete.

To get a well-rounded sense of something we need to see both types of data represented.

I often see IEPs that only include qualitative data. The Present Levels section will feature statements like, "Jimmy is able to add two-digit numbers with greater accuracy than in the previous 9 weeks," or "Sarah is able to write her name with prompting." This is not bad information! But it is incomplete information.

High quality IEPs include both quantitative and qualitative data in how they describe a student and report his or her strengths and deficits.

To improve the two examples above, one might say:

"Jimmy is able to add two-digit numbers with greater accuracy than in the previous 9 weeks. In August, he was able to add 10 two-digit numbers with 80% accuracy in at least 3 of 5 trials. In October, he is now able to add 10 two-digit numbers with 90% accuracy in at least 4 of 5 trials."


"Sarah is able to write her name with zero letter reversals 90% of the time as measured by weekly spelling tests. With one verbal prompt, she is able to write her name with zero letter reversals 100% of the time."

See how these examples give you so much more information about what the child is able to do? And not only that, it tells you when and how they're able to do it. 

If your child's IEP is vague, particularly in the Present Levels section, ask for more quantitative data to be included. If there's nothing but numbers, ask for more qualitative data to be included. If a team member isn't sure where to start, suggest the lists below for ideas about how and where they can pull new data.

Qualitative Data Sources (which provide numerical evidence):

  • Standardized or formal assessments
  • Quizzes and tests
  • Homework accuracy, completion rate or time it takes to finish
  • Tracking sheets
  • Accuracy percentage of in-class work
  • Latency time to begin working
  • How often a skill occurs 
  • What level of prompting is needed before skill occurs (and how often a prompt must be given)
  • Percentages that may be increasing or decreasing (such as the percentage of time a student can perform a task correctly)

Qualitative Data Sources (which provide narrative information):

  • Observations
  • Assessments based on personal opinions
  • Descriptions
  • Comparisons
  • Reports of information based on what is heard, felt, seen, smelled or touched
  • Survey results (if they're open-ended/narrative and not a Likert scale)
  • Patterns noticed

A good IEP will include BOTH types of data. If your child's is lacking one or the other, start asking for more!

Like I said, this is a super easy way to advocate for a better IEP. Better data means clearer, more measurable goals, which should mean better outcomes.

Start with data!

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