What Does Progress Monitoring Really Look Like?

We are almost at the halfway point in the year and you have groups all over your classroom and so does everyone else in the school.  The questions start to echo off the walls: Is Mary in the right group?  Are they progressing fast enough to close the gap by the end of the year?  Am I doing this strategy correctly?  How do I group the students to get the most progress in the least amount of time?  Is this strategy working or not?

A critical key component to successful progress monitoring is setting reasonable goals.  We do not want to waste time implementing an ineffective strategy or taking data and then not using it to help guide our instruction.  If you have not set goals for your class as a whole and for individuals who are struggling, then you are going to have a very difficult time trying to get them where they need to be.  Consider the following analogy (Adapted from V. Lynch, C. McGuigan, and S. Shoemaker, “An Introduction to Systematic Instruction”).

Suppose you are taking a trip.  Contrast the difference between taking that trip having specified your destination and taking the trip with no special endpoint in mind.  For example, you leave Seattle this morning with a goal to reach Mexico City by nightfall three days hence, as opposed to merely leaving Seattle.  Without a specified destination and projected arrival time, you know neither in which direction to go nor how fast to travel; having established a goal, you know both these facts (head south and really hustle).  With this information you can judge whether the direction and the rate at which you are traveling will get you to your final destination on time.

If you have not set specific goals for the end of the year yet, it is not too late.  You need to meet with your colleagues/team and decide what the specific end of year goal is for each of your students.  Look back at your data and determine how many students have already met the goal, how many are close to reaching the goal already and how many students have a long way to go.  There are many research based standards for establishing performance goals using baseline data including DIBELS (http://dibles.uoregon.edu/), AIMSWeb (http://aimsweb.com/), and “Formative evaluation of academic progress: How much growth can we expect?”  School Psychology Review, 22, 27-48 (http://www.studentprogress.org/library/articles.asp).  You can also use normative peer data to establish a reference point for the initial goal for an individual. Not only is it critical to set a goal for your students but a key factor in determining success is teacher responsiveness to the data.  “Goal ambitiousness seems to positively affect student achievement.” (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Deno, 1985)  In other words, teachers and students who set their goals higher and continue to increase those goals progress at a more rapid rate than do peers who select lower performance goals and do not change them.  It is also crucial for teachers to follow specific rules for how to be responsive to the data instead of just collecting and graphing it.  Having clear and measurable goals allows teachers  to work as a team with other teachers and with the students.  There can be meaningful and concise communication with regard to how and what students need to improve, and whether they are indeed progressing.  Student progress will help keep the groups flexible as teachers adjust the groups according to student level of progress and program modification.

Let’s look at how to use goal setting, scores along the goal line, and program modification to make decisions about student progress.  If the student’s current level of performance is more than one-half of the peer norm, and if we had more than 30 weeks left in the school year, we would consider setting the goal at the current peer norm.  Since we do not have 30 weeks left in the year,  we need to reduce the goal to a level that we estimate to be attainable.  Initial goal setting may be done through estimation because it can be adjusted if the goal turns out to be unreasonable.   The main point here is to set a goal for every student so you know where you are headed.  Progress toward that goal is then represented on a student graph using a goal line.  When 4 consecutive scores exceed the goal line, raise the goal.  In contrast, when 4 consecutive scores fall below the goal line, modify the program.  Draw a vertical line on the graph to indicate where the program was modified and continue to graph the scores.  The new goal line will need to be parallel to (but lower than) the goal line beginning at the student’s present level of performance.  You may also adjust your groups at this time to regroup students who are progressing without modification and students who will all need an adjustment to the program.  Keep in mind that you will need to progress monitor the lowest 40% of your students more often than the others.  You will also need to monitor the programs in which more students are struggling more often than the programs in which most of the students are progressing along their goal line.

Program modification includes a myriad of options.  It is important to first look at the implementation integrity to make sure the program is being used in the way it was designed.  There are a number of implementation integrity checklists created by Alecia Rahn Blakeslee at http://www.aea11.k12.ia.us/idm.  Once you have determined the integrity of the intervention, you can start to look at ways to modify it in order to meet the needs of your students and your campus.  Deb Simmons has created a chart that displays alterable variables in programs. This chart is available at http://oregonreadingfirst.uoregon.edu/inst_swrm.html.  There are several other guidelines to consider when modifying any program.  Supplemental groups should optimally include no more than five or six students.  Intensive groups should optimally include no more than three or four students.  Put the most qualified staff with the neediest students.  Your campus may want to do a personnel resource inventory with ALL staff (general education, Title l and special education teachers, G/T, ELL specialists, paraprofessionals, trained volunteers) to see who has knowledge, skills and experience with the strategies you want to put in place.  Scheduling is another important factor.  Possibly have teachers teach core subjects at different times of the day or different periods so the support staff can schedule time in each classroom and students can access additional time in other classrooms.  You can list each teacher and support personnel’s schedule in 15 minute increments.  Any 15 minute section that they are not teaching core content is a possible intervention time.  This could be a way to provide the additional intervention time for the supplemental and intensive groups.

RtI implementation takes a commitment from all the staff and administrators.  Students will be successful if we use our time and resources effectively and efficiently.  At this point in the year teachers and the leadership team need to be looking at the goals for all students and their progress towards those goals.  It is critical to be responsive to the data that have been collected to modify the program after implementation fidelity has been established.  There are many resources to guide you through this process.  For more information please refer to the RtI Blueprint for Implementation- School Building Level at www.nasdse.org and the Progress Monitoring Leadership Team Content Module at www.rti4success.org.

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