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Using Data to Support Remote Learners with IEPs

April 24th, 2020

This article was co-written by: Rachel Brown, Ph.D. and Jessica Arnold

“The student will receive 30 minutes of additional instruction in math.” “The student will receive small group instruction twice per week for 30 minutes in social-emotional skills.” For the special education teacher, services such as these were easy to structure and progress monitor in the typical instructional setting. However, IEPs do not translate well in a remote learning environment. Special educators are now seeking solutions to the best next steps in servicing students who have special needs. 

One of the most important behaviors special educators can do is to get into the habit of strong data practices (including using progress toward goals, qualitative data, screeners, etc.) so the data collected now can be used to create impactful plans in the future. This post will outline three key steps for data practices during remote learning: 1) identify and collect useful data; 2)  organize the data in a meaningful manner 3) share the data collected with educators and families who will be part of instruction now and next school year. Let’s review each step.

1. Identify and Collect Useful Data

A plethora of data can be considered when making plans for remote learners. 

  • Consider all of the data you already have (assessment data, progress monitoring data, etc.).
      • Districts have plenty of data from August through February that can be used to make decisions on next steps for students with IEPs. Think of formative assessments, benchmark assessments, and screeners. Consider data from the current school year and compare trends in the data from previous school years. 
      • What was the typical rate of improvement or growth historically compared to what was displayed this current school year? 
  • Document qualitative information about your students while this is fresh on your mind as details will fade over time. Some examples include:
      • Things that motivates a student
      • What type of learner is the student
      • The student's interests
      • Typical stumbling blocks for student
      • What were you working on with this student most recently
      • Where were you headed next
      • How has student historically responded to transitions

These pieces of data will be helpful for you when you return to school later this spring or next year’s case manager should schools not resume until the fall.

Although it’s important and beneficial to collect data with all remote learners, the need to collect progress monitoring data specifically with students who have IEPs has a federal mandate component: if progress monitoring was listed as part of the IEP goal before the COVID pandemic, schools must make good faith efforts to continue to collect those data. Illuminate provides progress monitoring assessments that can be used to keep track of students’ IEP goals using either computer-administered or teacher-administered measures.

Between computer-administered and teacher-administered, it’s recommended that special educators use computer-administered assessments for remote screening and progress monitoring because the results are the most likely to reflect standardized procedures. If necessary,  teacher-administered assessments can be used and detailed guidance for how to do this remotely is available from Illuminate FastBridge.


2. Create a Single Hub for Data

It will be extremely helpful to house relevant student data in one place, as it is uncertain when schools will reopen. After consideration and collection of the data to include in the collection, take action to compile the data in a meaningful manner and single repository, so those data will be useful now and into next school year. Consider creating this collection of data within a folder on a computer, print the material and keep it in a folder for future use, or use an Illuminate product to create the data collection.

Using DnA to Create a Data Collection:

Create a tile and link specific relevant data points within the tile. Consider the data points needed for an individual student with an IEP as well as data points that compare where the student is currently performing compared to his or her peers. Create as many tiles as needed, but only include data that pertains to the  purpose of the tile.

Using eduCLIMBER to Create a Data Collection:

Pin charts or data walls in a collection (both of which are accessible from the eduCLIMBER launchpad). A case manager can easily pin students’ progress toward IEP goals and historical progress with a singular assessment. We recommend creating one collection per student as a collection can be easily shared with other staff members.

Using Achievement Dashboard to Create a Data Collection: 

Think outside-the-box to display systems and programs as they currently exist using a dashboard. For example, create a dashboard to compare data for students who are and who are not in special education or a dashboard that consists of Google Sheet data. Send a Google Form to educators, students, and families to create visualizations on the data (such as students who attend remote instruction, number of remote sessions held per day or week, etc.). A dashboard for specific sites, programs, or students provides comparison points that can assist the district in action planning when school returns to session. 


3. Communication with Educators

Constant communication among educators is critical at this time. With every educator doing what he or she can given the situation, districts will thrive more with additional information sent on current progress and developments within their field. This is all the more reason to ensure individuals who need access to the folder/collection of data not only have that access (keep in mind FERPA regulations around access to student data) but also are in communication on the intent of the data folder. People to consider may include:

  • Specialists who support/provide related services 
  • School psychologists
  • Next year’s IEP teacher
  • Current regular education teacher
  • Site administrator
  • Director of Special Education

Keep in mind the purpose of the data collection. Is the goal to have educators be informed, or is the goal to take action and develop a new IEP? No matter the direction, include communication and updates that are pertinent to the purpose at hand—without bogging down the audience with extraneous information. How can you use Illuminate’s tools to support this process?

Data and Assessment (DnA)

Once the tile is created that houses the data, consider additional links to information that would support the student further into the start of next school year. Consider information on the IEP, amendments to the IEP, services provided during COVID-19, plans/goals for the future, etc. Share the tile with those who should have and are legally able to access the data.


Once the collection of data is created, set a meeting regarding the information, and develop an action plan to move forward. Share the collection with those who should have and are legally able to access data and consider inviting others to the meeting to discuss next steps for the student.

Achievement Dashboard

Are you looking at special education from a broader lens within your district? Create a dashboard that illustrates data as they relate to students in regular education compared to students in special education. Make an action plan to address concerns and/or implement new practices within special education programming. Share the dashboard with those who should have and are legally able to access the data.

Communication and Support to Families

Although remote instruction has become more common in recent years, it might be very new for many parents. An important practice within remote instruction is frequent communication. This is because information that might otherwise be communicated in daily brief conversations or at-school meetings will need to be shared in other ways. As educators develop or amend IEPs that include remote instruction and assessment, the following practices will help to ensure that parents are full partners in their child’s education:

  • More frequent communication and meetings might be needed in the initial days of remote instruction because the practices will be new to students, family members, and teachers. 
  • Offer to meet with family members by telephone or videoconference to review instructional plans and supports.
    • Remember that some parents might not be comfortable communicating only via email and that telephone calls are more personal.
  • When meeting with families, first ask what questions they would like answered.
    • Write down questions and their answers.
    • If an answer cannot be provided immediately, let the family member(s) know when an answer is likely.
    • At the end of a meeting, decide when the next meeting will be, if needed. 
  • Let family members know the best way to reach you and the times when you will be available.
  • For students with multiple service providers, identify which team member(s) will be the primary family contact so that communications are consistent and clear.
    • As needed, arrange for virtual case conferences to discuss and manage services across providers.
  • Keep a record of all family communications to add to the student’s special education service records if needed when on-campus instruction resumes.

Planning for the Future

Although we are living in a time of uncertainty, it is important to keep the future in mind. Check in with your state and local guidance as to the expected frequency in which special education teachers are reaching out and sharing progress with student families. Consider forward planning based on the data compiled using different timeframes

  • Short-Term 
    • How can the data be used to plan for summer school/summer instruction for the student?
  • Mid-Term
    • How can the data be used to plan for next school year when students return in fall 2020?
  • Long-Term
    • How can the data be used to ensure a successful start to fall 2020 and what supports will be necessary to ensure continued progress (based on current trends with the student) during the 2020-2021 school year?

It is especially important to consider plans and programming for those students who are transitioning to a new special education teacher and/or transitioning to a new building/district. The more data (including qualitative data) to support trends and progress in the student’s learning, and the more communication with educators and families, the more opportunities the student will have to succeed.

Additional Resources

There are several resources being released that provide guidance in this unprecedented time.  We anticipate more to be available as time progresses.

United States Department of Education


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Illuminate Education partners with K-12 educators to equip them with data to serve the whole child and reach new levels of student performance. Our solution brings together holistic data and collaborative tools and puts them in the hands of educators. Illuminate supports over 17 million students and 5200 districts/schools.

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