February 25, 2021

By Dr. Rachel Brown, NCSP, Senior Research Consultant

Data-based decision making is a key component of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

Such systems employ universal screening to identify all students’ learning needs. Students who have skills below expectations need evidence-based interventions to optimize their success.

This is where progress monitoring comes in.

In this blog, you’ll learn about the importance of progress monitoring, why and how it’s used in the classroom, and tools to help you get started.

What is progress monitoring in education?

Progress monitoring is the standardized process of evaluating progress toward a performance target, based on rates of improvement from frequent (typically weekly or biweekly) assessments of specific skills.

In education, progress monitoring is used to:

  • Assess students’ academic and social-emotional behavior (SEB) progress
  • Examine the rate of improvement
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of instruction or intervention

Progress monitoring is typically used with both individual students and small groups.

The difference between progress monitoring and monitoring progress

Progress monitoring and monitoring progress sound very similar, but they are not the same thing. However, we need both in schools for student success.

Progress monitoring is a formal system where a teacher collects data for students who participate in interventions each week while the student is participating in those interventions. However, progress monitoring is only reliable and valid if it’s being conducted with a standardized assessment so that we can track growth in real time.

Monitoring progress is a more informal approach that teachers use every day when they’re simply scanning a classroom to see who might be engaged and who is not, or who is done and who is not ready to move on to another activity. It’s also sometimes used to describe generally monitoring students’ standards proficiency.

We need both in school systems—one as a more general method of monitoring and one to help make data-informed decisions about whether students are reaching the goals we’ve set for them.

teachers discussing together

3 main reasons teachers use progress monitoring in education

There are a variety of purposes that progress monitoring data can serve, but most often, teachers conduct progress monitoring to:

  1. Evaluate student learning outcomes
  2. Consider instructional changes
  3. Determine eligibility for other educational services

Let’s examine each of these purposes in more detail.

#1: Track and evaluate student learning outcomes

The most obvious and straightforward reason for progress monitoring is to track student learning over time. By utilizing progress monitoring, educators can use progress monitoring data to see if a student has made expected gains using the intervention provided.

If these are the gains needed to catch up to peers, progress monitoring can also document that.

#2: Determine if instructional or intervention changes are needed

Progress monitoring also provides a way for educators to evaluate their own instructional and intervention practices. When a student’s progress monitoring data indicate desired improvements, a change to the intervention might not be necessary.

However, when progress monitoring data show that a student is not making the necessary gains to reach the instructional goal, educators can revise their intervention strategies and collect more data moving forward.

#3: Determine eligibility for additional educational services

A third common purpose for progress monitoring is to determine whether a student is eligible for other types of educational services or interventions, including special education.

Beginning in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (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 monitoring data for SLD eligibility is required in certain US states and is allowed in all of them.

Effective tools for progress monitoring

Learn more about using Renaissance assessment tools for progress monitoring.

Progress monitoring assessments

Districts may decide between two different assessments for progress monitoring: curriculum-based measures (CBMs) and computer-adaptive tests (CATs). Leading assessment platforms for K–12—including FastBridge and Star Assessments from Renaissance—include both CBMs and CATs in order to meet a wide variety of assessment needs.

The two types of assessments are not the same, however. It’s important to understand the distinctions between CBM and CAT to make the best selections for student progress monitoring measures.

Curriculum-based measures (CBMs)

Curriculum-based measures are the most widely researched and commonly used progress monitoring assessments.

When they were first developed, the purpose of CBMs was to measure student growth and provide a brief, repeatable, authentic, and inexpensive measure to track student progress.

Historically, curriculum-based measures have also been used for making decisions about:

  • Screening
  • Referrals
  • Program outcomes
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) outcomes

Curriculum-based measures typically incorporate standardized procedures for administration and scoring. CBM publishers 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 a target skill.

To utilize CBMs, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  1. Identify CBM probes that align with a student’s IEP goals, grade, and skill level.
  2. Plot the scores on a graph that appropriately and accurately depicts the data to help provide a visual for the student to better understand their performance.
  3. Set goals for the student.
  4. Make instructional decisions based on the student’s outcomes and determine if changes are needed in the instruction, intervention, or materials.
  5. Share results with parents and other educational professionals.

CBM progress monitoring assessment examples

In reading, a teacher might have a student read a few passages aloud for a set duration of time. The teacher then records any errors made while reading those passages. Next, the teacher takes an average of the correctly read words from the passages to determine the student’s true reading rate.

In spelling, teachers might read 10 words aloud for a student to spell with few to no errors. Teachers score the student based on their correct letter sequence.

In writing, teachers might give a story starter, then give a student one minute to think of a storyline and a handful of minutes to write out as much of the story as possible. This CBM is scored by the number of words written, the number of words spelled correctly, or a combination of both.

In math, teachers can use single-skill or multiple-skill probes and instruct students to solve as many problems as possible within a specific time. The score is based on the number of correct digits.

Computer-adaptive tests (CATs)

The use of computer-adaptive tests (CATs) is becoming increasingly popular throughout districts to monitor individual student progress.

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.

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 test 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 their grade level, but later items are selected by the computer program based on the student’s answers to earlier items.

Simply put, CATs automatically adjust to a student’s skill level to measure achievement.

CAT progress monitoring assessment examples

A simple example of progress monitoring assessments using CATs is this:

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 or incorrectly by the student.

Some other CATs you’re likely familiar with that utilize IRT principles are:

  • GRE
  • GMAT
teacher helping her class with schoolwork

How to use progress monitoring data most effectively

When progress monitoring assessments are implemented with the intent to increase student success, they can provide the necessary student data to help you make informed decisions about the next step in the educational plan.

And although progress monitoring data is key to driving the right intervention decisions at the right time for student success, many educators struggle to decipher the data gathered from their progress monitoring assessments.

Why is this?

Far too often, schools and districts collect a multitude of data, but they fail to effectively use it to make changes in instruction.

Educators also must approach the data—whether from a CBM, a CAT, or both—in an unbiased manner, viewing it as formative feedback on student progress as opposed to a personal attack on their instruction or intervention routes.

At Renaissance, we understand that it’s difficult to utilize the data gathered to help drive future instruction or interventions if you’re not quite sure what to make of the data you’ve acquired. If this sounds like you, we have the support that you’re looking for.

Download our free Progress Monitoring Toolkit for guidance on using your progress monitoring data to help your students succeed. And if you’d like to learn more about using FastBridge or Star Assessments for progress monitoring, connect with an expert today.

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