Progress monitoring is an essential component of a modern educational system. Are you interested in tracking learners’ academic achievements during a period of learning, such as a school year? Then you need to design a valid and reliable progress monitoring system that would enable educators assist students in achieving a performance target. Progress monitoring is a standardized process of assessing a specific construct or a skill that should take place often enough to make pedagogical decisions and take appropriate actions.
Why Progress monitoring?
Progress monitoring mainly serves two purposes: to identify students in need and to adjust instructions based on assessment results. Such adjustments can be used on both individual and aggregate levels of learning. Educators should use progress monitoring data to make decisions about whether appropriate interventions should be employed to ensure that students obtain support to propel their learning and match their needs (Issayeva, 2017).
This assessment is usually criterion-referenced and not normed. Data collected after administration can show a discrepancy between students’ performances in relation to the expected outcomes, and can be graphed to display a change in rate of progress over time.
Progress monitoring dates back to the 1970s when Deno and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota initiated research on applying this type of assessment to observe student progress and identify the effectiveness of instructional interventions (Deno, 1985, 1986; Foegen et al., 2008). Positive research results suggested to use progress monitoring as a potential solution of the educational assessment issues existing in the late 1980s–early 1990s (Will, 1986).
Approaches to development of measures
Two approaches to item development are highly applicable these days: robust indicators and curriculum sampling (Fuchs, 2004). It is interesting to note, that advantages of using one approach tend to mirror disadvantages of the other one.
According to Foegen et al. (2008), robust indicators represent core competencies integrating a variety of concepts and skills. Classic examples of robust indicator measures are oral reading fluency in reading and estimation in Mathematics. The most popular illustration of this case is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that evaluates preparedness of students worldwide to apply obtained knowledge and skills in practice regardless of the curriculum they study at schools (OECD, 2012).
When using the second approach, a curriculum is analyzed and sampled in order to construct measures based on its proportional representations. Due to the direct link to the instructional curriculum, this approach enables teachers to evaluate student learning outcomes, consider instructional changes, and determine eligibility for other educational services. Progress monitoring is especially applicable when curriculum is spiral (Bruner, 2009) since it allows students revisit the same topics with increasing complexity.
CBM and CAT
Curriculum-based measures (CBMs) are commonly used for progress monitoring purposes. They typically embrace standardized procedures for item development, administration, scoring, and reporting. CBMs are usually conducted under timed conditions as this allows obtain evidence of a student’s fluency within a targeted skill.
Computerized adaptive tests (CATs) are gaining more and more popularity these days, particularly within progress monitoring framework. CATs were primarily developed to replace traditional fixed-length paper-and-pencil tests and have been proven to become a helpful tool determining each learner’s achievement levels (Weiss & Kingsbury, 1984).
CATs utilize item response theory (IRT) and provide students with subsequent items based on difficulty level and their answers in real time. In brief, IRT is a statistical method that parameterizes items and examinees on the same scale, and facilitates stronger psychometric approaches such as CAT (Weiss, 2004). Thompson and Weiss (2011) suggest a step-by-step guidance on how to build CATs.
Progress monitoring vs. traditional assessments
Progress monitoring significantly differs from traditional classroom assessments by many reasons. First, it provides objective, reliable, and valid data on student performance, e. g. in terms of the mastery of a curriculum. Subjective judgement is unavoidable for teachers when they prepare classroom assessments for their students. On the contrary, student progress monitoring measures and procedures are standardized which guarantees relative objectivity, as well as reliability and validity of assessment results (Deno, 1985; Foegen & Morrison, 2010). In addition, progress monitoring results are not graded, and there is no preparation prior to the test. Second, it leads to thorough feedback from teachers to students. Competent feedback helps teachers adapt their teaching methods or instructions in response to their students’ needs (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2011). Third, progress monitoring enables teachers help students in achieving long-term curriculum goals by tracking their progress in learning (Deno et al., 2001; Stecker et al., 2005). According to Hintze, Christ, and Methe (2005), progress monitoring data assist teachers in identifying specific actions towards instructional changes in order to help students in mastering all learning objectives from the curriculum. Ultimately, this results in a more effective preparation of students for the final high-stakes exams.
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