When I first started teaching, there was a new requirement from the director to progress monitor once every three weeks. Teachers were furious and overwhelmed. They thought that it was such a waste of time. To be honest, I don’t blame them. It can be time consuming and a daunting task.
Despite the time commitment and requirement to be organized, good progress monitoring practices are critical for student success.
Determine if an Intervention is Successful
Whether you are monitoring students who are already identified or students who are in the Response to Intervention process, frequent monitoring is essential for determining if an intervention is successful.
Let’s pretend that you have access to TWO interventions for students who struggle to decode unfamiliar words. You use one intervention with fidelity for nine weeks. After progress monitoring your students, you may find that a large percentage of your students are making progress and gaining in their knowledge of decoding unfamiliar words. However, often times, there are students who are not making progress with the intervention you are currently utilizing. Frequent progress monitoring helps teachers see that the intervention in place is not working for a handful of students.
I love to find ways to make my students accountable for their own learning. I keep a binder with goal graphs for each of my students. They have a graph for each goal they have in their IEP. In some cases, I have students who are also tracking their sight words or computation progress, even though it isn’t in their IEP.
Many of my students are so proud of themselves when they graph their own progress. They also check it before beginning a quick assessment. Just before my last round of progress monitoring, I had one student check his chart. In October, he was only able to read 2 words, which were I and a. Since that time, he has increased his word recognition to 15 words! He was so proud of himself. He was excited to practice sight words later in our group because he wants to be at 20 words by the next time we read our words. It is an excellent way to motivate your students and let them be responsible for their own learning.
Helps Target Specific Needs
I can’t tell you the number of times that I have found unknown weaknesses in my students when we progress monitor. For example, I have this sweet, shy first grader. Her lack of participation in the group made me believe that the work was becoming too hard for her. In reality, through progress monitoring, I learned that she had really mastered that particular skill and was struggling with something else entirely.
Develops a Trend Line
Accurate trend lines and the frequency that progress monitoring occurs go hand in hand. I once had a special education friend who refused to “test” his kids every three weeks. He thought that is was a waste of time and torture for his students. In my opinion, if your progress monitoring is time consuming and torturous for your students, you are doing something wrong.
He had a student that later really bothered him. He regretted not being more aware of his strengths and weaknesses. I believe that more frequent progress monitoring could have helped him. Here’s why–To develop a trend line, you must have three or more data points. The more data points you have, the more accurate your trend line will be. If you are only progress monitoring once every nine weeks, then you won’t have three data points until MARCH. I’m sorry, my friends, but I think that is too late. We all know what spring time looks like in special education. For me, it consists of constant interruptions of service due to state-wide testing and annual case conferences. How can you wait until the busiest time of year to get a true understanding of how your students are performing?
By progress monitoring three times per nine weeks, I have an accurate trend line by October. I can make adjustments to instruction and gather more data between October and December.
Restructure Student Groupings
Once I’ve gathered data, I almost always rearrange a few students to better suit their needs. I love to be able to call a parent and let them know that their child has mastered and IEP goal and is ready for more challenging academic work. It’s amazing for everyone involved. Without collecting data, I may end up with a handful of students on my caseload who aren’t being pushed to meet their fullest potential.
Inspire New Routines
This is embarrassing to share, but I have to do it. I had a group of students who I thought were really kicking butt. I seriously thought they were doing great and making progress. Looking back, I think that I was confusing their ability to complete tasks WITH ME as mastery. They couldn’t actually do tasks independently. After progress monitoring, I spent a solid week beating myself up. I couldn’t understand why this group of students was unable to name letters and produce their sounds as well by themselves as they were with me. I was frustrated and questioning myself. But, that frustration and questioning led to something great. It caused me to really step back and look at what I was doing in that group. It made me find new routines for practicing letters and sounds in more independent ways. Without progress monitoring, I wouldn’t have realized just how much they weren’t able to do independently.