Progress Monitoring Explained

By Jennifer Bessette, Director of Professional Services

What is progress monitoring?

Simply put, progress monitoring allows educators to measure student performance throughout the year. Progress monitoring lets you know which students are succeeding and which students might be struggling to make progress. This information is used to make decisions about the student’s educational plan, and ensure student growth. Schools may also use progress monitoring techniques to make decisions about whole classroom performance.

Why do we need it?

It helps us make informed decisions. Without measuring student performance, you are merely guessing student ability. These guesses are subjective, and may or may not be accurate. For example, you may notice a student point to his shirt and say “blue.” This leads you to believe he knows his colors, so you decide not to teach this skill. In reality, however, he may have heard someone else say his shirt is blue. If you ask him what color the sky is, he may not know the answer. When you measure student performance, you obtain a much more objective view of what the student does and does not know. Once you know how students are truly performing, you are much better equipped to make decisions about their education. Learn how Greenwood School District takes the guesswork out of teaching by regularly monitoring student progress.

Students make more progress. When you’re able to make decisions based on student performance, students make more progress. This is because you are now (hopefully) adjusting your teaching methods based on student need.

Communication improves. Progress monitoring allows you to have more detailed conversations about student performance. You are now able to provide documentation on student strengths and challenges. This is especially helpful when students perform differently in different settings (as is often the case in special education). For example, you can clearly see how a student performs in the resource room, general education classroom, speech therapy, music class, and even at home. This provides a well-rounded view of the students for all educators, related service providers, family members, and district administrators to share. Learn how North East ISD uses progress monitoring to improve home-school communication.

Is collecting data the same as progress monitoring?

Not exactly. Data collection is a great first step towards monitoring progress, but it is only that – a step. Here at Rethink, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of data collection. We send our partner districts messages celebrating the amount of data staff collect, and offer support should data collection decline. This is because data collection leads to progress monitoring. It is not enough to merely record data – educators need to review the data and base their decisions on the data collected. If the data isn’t accurate and easy to understand, educators are going to have a tough time knowing what to do with the data. For more information on how Rethink Ed helps educators collect and analyze data, check out this recent webinar.

Need help improving your district’s progress monitoring skills? Contact us today!

Student Performance Drives Teacher Evaluation

By Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH

As an educator, I have always viewed my success by student learning. If students are learning, then I must be teaching effectively – right? I guess that depends upon how learning is measured. There is research that demonstrates that tying student achievement to teacher evaluation improves student outcomes. However, many teachers voice concerns about their evaluations being tied to student achievement given the multiple variables that affect student achievement. Much of this debate is related to the use of a single measure, high stakes testing, as the primary measure of student performance.

In special education, reliance on the single measure of a high stakes test is not necessary since a direct measure of student learning is available: achievement of IEP goals and objectives. A well-written IEP contains goals and objectives that are designed to be achievable within one year. Demonstrable growth is demonstrated by students throughout the year and this growth is documented through progress monitoring and graphic display of individual student data.

Special education teacher evaluation should include supervisors reviewing this individualized student achievement data and assessing the success of an educator through their student’s learning. Principals are often the professionals conducting teacher evaluations. A special education teacher should feel confident in sharing their student achievement data with their principals. Those graph lines going up, documenting student growth, can be proudly shared as demonstration of teacher effectiveness. Teacher evaluation is a hot-button issue. Special educators are in the unique position of having individualized education plans and individual student data to document their teaching effectiveness.

Alone We Can Do So Little; Together We Can Do So Much: Meaningful Parent Involvement on IEP Teams

By: Maria Wilcox, MA, BCBA

March 22, 2017 marked an incredible day in history for the 6.5 million students receiving special education services in public schools. The Supreme Court case Endrew F. vs. Douglas County Schools is eloquently summed up by Chief Justice John Roberts: “The IEP is not a form.” This statement has become the center of a variety of campaigns sponsored by disability advocacy groups and organizations, including one by TASH.

At the heart of the matter is getting back to the team-based approach to the IEP and ensuring a child’s individualized needs and supports are addressed. IDEA states that parents must be invited to, attend, and participate in their child’s IEP meeting. This is a vague description of their role and one that can be subject to a variety of interpretations. Here are three meaningful ways that parents can participate in the meeting and be active, contributing partners to the team.

    1. Presume Positive Intentions: Parents want to work with you. They also want what is best for their child at school, at home, and in the future. So often, parents have had negative previous experiences with IEP meetings or team members and that leaves a bad taste for future experiences. Combative attitudes, accusatory words, and cloak and dagger communication are toxic to the team and are often the result of misinformation or unsavory experiences. Keeping in mind the parent’s point of view is instrumental in resetting the relationship and starting everyone off on a positive note. A great technique is for parents to share their vision of the future for their child or if possible, have the student share his hopes and dreams with the IEP team. It will remind everyone why they are there and part of the team.
    2. Address Conflicts and Disagreements: Recognizing that there is always the possibility of disagreements as part of a team is an important fact of the team-based approach. There are a variety of legal protections as part of the IEP process that protect both the student and his/her family and school teams. However, before any formal conflict resolution takes place, teams should commit to informal problem-solving protocols. For instance, a mutually agreed-upon facilitator can listen to both sides and bring clarity to the issue. Again, at the heart of the conflict are the best interests of the student which sometimes requires all team members to take a step backwards and adjust their perspectives.
    3. Involve Early and Often: Going back to Chief Justice Robert’s statement that the IEP is not a form, serves as a great reminder that the IEP is not a “one and done” deal. At the start of the school year, teams should collaborate to determine how to best involve all members, including parents. Communication should always be priority and should include language and interpretation, with ample opportunity to connect via email, phone, or text. Schools need to ask parents their opinions, share student successes, and partner with them to support student through their learning experiences (both good and challenging). Special education team members share a lot of power in the student’s future therefore it is important that everyone is on the same page to ensure the best and most meaningful outcomes for the student.

Alternate Assessment: Making Sure All Student Progress Is Measured


Educators use assessment to ensure their instruction is effective and that students are learning. With No Child Left Behind, high stakes testing became more prominent in public education. High stakes testing has primarily assessed math and literacy for students moving through the K-12 experience and attempting to achieve a high school diploma. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, this type of high stakes testing would not be appropriate. However, all students are capable of learning and all students deserve to be assessed. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, a maximum of 1% of the total school population, an Alternate Assessment must be made available.

The Alternate Assessment is described in federal law and is a mechanism to ensure that students with significant disabilities are included in educational accountability. The Alternate Assessment should measure student progress and be designed to align with college and career readiness standards that all students are working towards. These standards may be modified for students with significant cognitive disabilities but the assumption is that they, like all students enrolled in school, should be working towards a high-quality life. The Alternate Assessment design and delivery is a decision made by each state. States choose a variety of methods for assessment including portfolio, teacher observation, checklists, ongoing measurement of learning and traditional computer-based tools. The goal is to gain an authentic assessment of the unique learning progress of each student.

Children with disabilities were afforded the right to attend school in the 70’s. Since then High-stakes testing has taken on an increasingly significant role in the education system. Although high-stakes testing is not without controversy, as long as students are being tested, we must ensure that ALL students are tested, including the 1% with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

Adult Quality of Life is the Goal for All Students

By Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH

Standards based educational reform has been moving through the public-school system for decades. There is a strong belief that there are basic academic skills that should be demonstrated by all students and that teacher effectiveness and student achievement can be better assessed if there is a set of standards to guide all educators. However, some students, those described by the federal government as having significant cognitive disabilities, may not be able to achieve these academic standards even with high quality instruction. For these students with significant cognitive disabilities, alternate achievement standards have been adopted in multiple states. These alternate standards are designed for a very small proportion, one percent, of the school-aged population.

IDEA, the guiding legislation for special education, indicates that students with disabilities should have access to the general education curriculum and that they should be educated with their typically developing peers for the greatest extent possible. Students with significant cognitive disabilities are educated primarily in self-contained classroom settings without the benefits of frequent interaction with typically developing peers. There is a call to action for this to change; that ideally all students would be educated in a single educational context. One of the reasons for this call to action is that students enrolled in these segregated settings are not achieving long-term quality of life outcomes such as employment and independent living.

With effective instruction, students with significant cognitive disabilities can learn and make progress. Although it may not be reasonable to assume that students with the most significant disabilities achieve the same outcomes as those without disabilities, it is important that the educational system convey high expectations for all students. When an alternate system is created, it can lead to a sense of hierarchy; that one system (standards for 99% of the student population) is above another (standards for 1% of the student population). There are countless examples of adult success. Whatever the educational environment, there must be an expectation that all students exit high school and enter adulthood as meaningful contributors to society.