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Progress Monitoring for Reading

Progress Monitoring with Curriculum-Based Reading Measurements for SPED students
By: Melissa Snodgrass and Dr. Marla J. Lohmann
            As Special Education teachers, we are charged with supporting the needs of students with disabilities.  Effectively meeting the needs of our students involves high quality instruction, evidence-based interventions, and regular progress monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction and interventions.  Progress monitoring is critical because it allows teachers to evaluate both a student’s reading level, as well as the student’s growth, in comparison to expected improvements based on grade-level norms (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1999), and to make instructional adjustments as necessary (Jenkins, Hudson, & Lee, 2007).  In addition, progress monitoring is a critical component for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, also known as MTSS (Eagle, Dowd-Eagle, Snyder, & Holtzman, 2015).
The results of reading progress monitoring can be used for making decisions about the student’s educational needs.  According to Fuchs and Fuchs (1999), when a student is making expected growth, specialized interventions are often not necessary.  This is true even when the student’s overall reading level is below grade-level expectations.
One evidence-based method for progress monitoring in reading is the use of curriculum-based measurements (CBMs).  CBMs are short assessments that can be given quickly and often will show small gains in student academic reading skills (Wright, n.d.).  For progress monitoring reading skills, reading fluency CBMs are often used; these assessments monitor student progress in both speed and accuracy of reading (Wright, n.d.).  Progress monitoring should occur over a long period of time – data from an entire year (or even a semester) is a more accurate picture of student progress than data from just a few weeks or months (VanNorman, Christ, & Newell, 2017). 
            While we know that progress monitoring is critical for monitoring student performance in reading, it can be a challenge for teachers to find the time to make this practice a reality.  For this this practice to happen in your classroom, we have a few recommendations:
·         Use intermittent progress monitoring.  A recent study (Jenkins, Schulze, Marti, & Harbaugh, 2017) found that teachers who progress monitor students on an intermittent, but still frequent basis, found similar results as those who use CBMs on a weekly basis.  Teachers can opt to conduct CBMs once every two or three weeks.  This will result in less data for decision-making purposes, but the data should still be sufficient.  It is recommended, though, that intermittent progress monitoring involve the use of three reading probes at a time instead of just one (Jenkins et al., 2007).  It is the recommendation of the authors that teachers plan for progress monitoring every week, but only test a portion of the class each time.  We believe that it will be easier for teachers to be in the habit of progress monitoring if it happens every week. 
·         Conduct CBMs during reading centers. Including reading centers as a part of your classroom instruction provides students with the opportunity to enhance skills that are directly related to their learning needs and reading levels (Daniels & Bizar, 1998).  Teachers use a variety of activities during reading center time and the authors recommend making progress monitoring one center activity.  A suggested activity to monitor progress and to obtain immediate feedback without requiring additional tracking time, is for the teacher to time students in a small reading group for oral reading fluency (ORF).  Next the teacher can assess comprehension by using Level II, in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom’s Taxonomy website, n.d.), by having the student explain different parts of the story in his or her own words, or describe feelings that they think the main character(s) had at the beginning and ending of the story.  Dibels (Dynamic Measurement Group website, n.d.) is also an excellent assessment that requires very little time, but produces big results.  Reading center time is ideal for this purpose as students are generally actively engaged in the learning activities, so teachers can focus on conducting quality assessments.  Also, teachers may be more likely and willing to conduct these assessments during reading centers knowing that it will not take away from their instructional time or add to their planning time.
·         Collaboration.  Depending on the level of intervention, not only do we, as the students’ Special Education teachers, need to conduct progress monitoring, but also, we will need to give and receive input from other teachers, administrators, and parents.  It is possible that in a co-teaching environment the power dynamic in a classroom can be unequal because of a possible one teach- one assist scenario (Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2014).  Some teachers may not be willing to relinquish power causing an unbalanced relationship.  However, collaboration can have positive outcomes.  For example, in Hamilton-Jones and Vails study (2014), teachers “sharing professional responsibility” took equal responsibility in educating the students, representing students in meetings and supporting each other in their own unique roles (2014).  Also, in a well-managed MTSS team, professionals come together to share their experiences with students, share ideas for interventions and discuss results from progress monitoring.  We, as Special Education teachers, may find ourselves compelled to take the leadership in nurturing positive collaborative relationships to ensure we are using best practices on our students’ behalf. 
Ongoing progress monitoring is critical to evaluate the effectiveness of reading instruction and to determine if additional interventions are necessary.  However, the concept of progress monitoring may initially paint a picture in a teacher’s mind of a need to commit to several additional hours of work and preparation.  As discussed above, however, that picture can be erased as progress monitoring can be intermittently incorporated into everyday classroom instruction and staff meetings.  Progress monitoring specifically for reading instruction can be accomplished during reading center times with simple CBMs.  Also, if a teacher gives and receives support from coworkers, parents and supervisors, collaboration from all will enhance the results of the progress monitoring and data collection, thereby making it successful.

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Melissa Snodgrass is a Master’s of Special Education student at Colorado Christian University, to graduate in May 2018.  She has taught Preschool, and in more recent years has been substitute teaching both short and long-term assignments in PreK-12 Douglas County Schools in Colorado.  When she graduates, she is interested in working with students with mild/moderate disabilities.
 Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University, where she prepares future Special Education teachers and conducts research in the areas of early childhood behavior management and the use of UDL in online teacher preparation.  She can be contacted at