To implement student progress monitoring:
- The teacher determines a student's current performance level on skills that the student will be learning that school year.
- Identifies achievement goals that the student needs to reach by the end of the year.
- Establishes the rate of progress the student must make to meet those goals.
The teacher then measures the student's academic progress regularly (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) using probes—brief, easily administered measures. Each of the probes samples the entire range of skills that the student must learn by the end of the year, rather than just the particular skills a teacher may be teaching that week or month.
Research has demonstrated that when teachers use student progress monitoring, students learn more, teacher decision making improves, and students become more aware of their own performance
A key difference between student progress monitoring and mastery measurement approaches, such as teacher-made unit tests. Mastery measurement tells teachers whether the student has learned the particular skills covered in a unit, but not whether the student is learning at a pace that will allow him or her to meet annual learning goals. By regularly measuring all skills to be learned, teachers can graph changes in the number of correct words per minute (reading) or correct digits (math) and compare a student's progress to the rate of improvement needed to meet end-of-year goals. If the rate at which a particular student is learning seems insufficient, the teacher can adjust instruction.
To track student progress, the teacher graphs a line between the student's initial level of performance on a specific skill and the end-of-year goal. Then, the teacher plots the level of performance as each probe is administered. After noting the pattern of progress, the teacher can adjust instruction to improve student learning. If the student's performance falls below the line, the teacher may use more intense instruction (in small groups or one-on-one), reteach the material, or provide additional opportunities for the student to practice certain skills.
Student progress monitoring fits well into the routine of the classroom. The probes can be administered quickly, and the results are immediately understandable and easy to communicate. In some classrooms, students graph their own progress and find it motivating to “make the line go up.” The following example shows how a 3rd grade teacher might use student progress monitoring.
During the first week of school, Ms. Cole includes as part of her initial probe of all students in her class an oral passage-reading test. She selects several 3rd grade-level reading passages and has each student read aloud for one minute while she notes any errors. She uses this assessment to identify any students at risk of scoring below grade level in oral reading fluency on the state end-of-year reading test. In reviewing the scores, Ms. Cole sees that six students have low scores, placing them at risk.
Ms. Cole determines each of these student's current reading rate (correct words per minute) as well as the level that student must attain by the end of the year to demonstrate grade-level reading fluency, and graphs a line indicating the necessary rate of growth. Using different but equivalent-level passages, Ms. Cole then administers a one-minute probe to each student each week, graphs the number of correct words the student reads per minute, and compares that score with the goal line.
After six weeks, Ms. Cole sees that the rate of growth for two students is relatively flat, indicating that the reading instruction she is providing for them is not effectively moving them toward their end-of-year goal. Ms. Cole decides to provide 15 minutes of additional reading instruction focusing on particular reading skills to those students each day, and to monitor their progress twice weekly.
After three more weeks, Ms. Cole sees that the growth rate of one student has improved significantly. She discontinues the extra reading instruction but continues to monitor the progress of that student weekly. The second student still shows relatively flat progress, so Ms. Cole refers the student to the school reading specialist, who provides remedial services and continues to monitor the student's progress twice weekly.
Monitoring the learning progress of students also enables teachers to monitor their own teaching.