Data-based decision making is a key component of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). Such systems employ universal screening in order to identify all students’ learning needs. Those students whose skills are below expectations (i.e., as determined via benchmarks) are provided with evidence-based interventions. This is where progress monitoring comes in.
What is Progress Monitoring?
Progress monitoring is the standardized process of evaluating progress toward a performance target, based on rates of improvement from frequent (usually weekly or biweekly) assessment of a specific skill. Progress monitoring is used to assess students’ academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) progress, examine rate of improvement, and evaluate effectiveness of instruction or intervention; it is typically used with both individual students and small groups.
This information is leveraged to make decisions about whether instructional practices and interventions should be maintained, modified, or intensified in order to ensure that students are receiving supports and instruction to propel their learning and match their needs.
Note, monitoring progress and progress monitoring are not the same thing. Teachers do monitoring of progress every day when they’re scanning the room and seeing who’s engaged or who’s not, who’s done, and who’s not ready to move onto another activity. Monitoring progress is also sometimes used to describe generally monitoring standards proficiency. This kind of monitoring of progress is important, but progress monitoring data are also needed in order to drive decisions around whether students are reaching their learning goals.
Purposes of Progress Monitoring
Progress monitoring can serve a variety of purposes. However, the three main reasons teachers conduct student progress monitoring include (a) evaluating student learning outcomes, (b) considering instructional change, and (c) determining eligibility for other educational services.
The most straightforward reason for progress monitoring is to track student learning over time. Such monitoring will show if a student has made expected gains in relation to the intervention provided. Monitoring can document the gains needed to catch up to peers.
Progress monitoring also provides a way for teachers to evaluate their own practices. When a student’s progress data indicate desired improvement, a change to intervention might not be needed. On the other hand, when progress data show that a student is not making the gains necessary to reach the instructional goal, a teacher can revise the intervention and collect more data.
A third purpose for progress monitoring is to determine whether a student is eligible for other types of educational services, including special education. Beginning in 2004, the IDEIA incorporated provisions for using progress data as part of the process to determine if a student meets the criteria for a specific learning disability (SLD). Although much narrower in scope than other uses, using progress data for SLD eligibility is required in certain states and allowed in all of them (Hauerwas, Brown, & Scott, 2013).
Progress Monitoring Assessments
Two types of assessments that districts may consider for progress monitoring are Curriculum-Based Measures (CBMs) and Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs). It’s necessary to understand the distinctions between CBM and CAT in order to make the best selections for progress monitoring measures.
Curriculum-Based Measures (CBMs)
The most widely researched and commonly used progress monitoring assessments are CBMs. They were first developed for the purpose of measuring student growth, and to provide a brief, repeatable, authentic and inexpensive measure to track student progress (Deno, 1985; Fuchs, Fuchs & Hamlett, 1990). Historically, CBMs have also been used for making decisions about screening, referrals, program outcomes and Individualized Education Program (IEP) outcomes.
CBMs typically incorporate standardized procedures for administration and scoring. Various distributors of CBM develop specific procedures for administration and scoring that are specific to their set of CBM materials. Each publisher also provides guidelines for interpretation and use, which often include a specific set of standardized benchmarks and norms. CBMs are often timed because standardized assessments completed under timed conditions provide evidence of a student’s automaticity (or fluency) with the target skill.
Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs)
Recently, some schools have begun to use CATs to monitor individual student progress; however, the evidence for this use for progress monitoring is weak. CATs were originally developed for the purpose of replacing traditional fixed-length paper-and-pencil tests of achievement and have been proven to be a helpful measure to identify each student’s achievement levels in reading and mathematics (Weiss & Kingsbury, 1984).
CATs utilize item response theory (IRT) and use student answers in real time to inform subsequent questions based on difficulty level. IRT is a statistical method that calculates the difficulty of all questions in a “bank” of testing items and then uses selected items in relation to each student’s response pattern. Specifically, when taking a CAT, the student starts with items matched to grade level, but later items are selected by the computer program based on the student’s answers to earlier items (Weiss, 2004; Weiss & Kingsbury, 1984). For example, a third-grade student starts with several third grade questions, but then the items would get easier or harder based on whether the first items were answered correctly. In this sense, CATs automatically adjust to a student’s skill level to measure broad achievement.
CBMs or CATs?
While CATs have demonstrated strong evidence for screening, there is very limited research concerning their use for progress monitoring. CBMs, such as FastBridge, are recommended for progress monitoring an individual student’s response to intervention because this use is well-supported by the available research.
How to Use Progress Monitoring Data
Although progress monitoring is key to driving the right intervention decisions at the right time, many educators struggle to decipher progress monitoring data. To support this work, we invite you to download our free Progress Monitoring Toolkit.
Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student.
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