About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something divorced mom and teacher from North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism. After 13 years in education, she has a wealth of knowledge to share on education and bonding with children.

As we attempt to bridge the gaps and get students to meet grade level expectations, many special education teachers feel pressured during benchmarking time. A lot of school districts get it right and use both benchmarking data and progress monitoring data, which is important.

Special education students shouldn't get assessed using benchmarks alone. Click To Tweet

Why? I’ll start my explanation by defining benchmark assessments and progress monitoring.

What are Benchmark Assessments?

  • Assessments that assess students progress as compared to national norms for the grade level they’re in.
  • Completed 2-3 times per year
  • Used to determine whether a significant gap exists between data points pre-determined by district level.

What is Progress Monitoring? 

  • Assessments that are done at least twice a month to determine if a student is moving toward a goal.
  • Done at the students’ current instructional level
  • Helps determine if a student is closing a gap (already known to exist).

Should you really benchmark special education students, considering that you already know the gap exists? I guess that’s up to your district. I think it’s unfair to expect that they would meet grade level expectations if they already show up as 3-4 grade levels below the norm. If a student is 3-4 grade levels below the norm, I think you’re better served to put good interventions in place and do progress monitoring to prove whether those interventions are working or not. However, in some cases, some students may meet grade level expectations in some areas, but not in others. In those cases, it may be difficult to tailor benchmark assessments for those specific purposes and it’s probably best to continue benchmarking to measure growth throughout the year. Since benchmark tests get conducted less often (only a couple of times a year), it’s prudent in those cases to benchmark and progress monitor.

If your student is in a resource classroom and grows, you consider growth positive and the intervention should continue. Continuous monitoring of data is a process you maintain throughout the year. Tracking your students and their successes are important. Keep your students informed of their scores. In my classroom, I praise even the smallest amount of growth to keep them trying and wanting to do more. I’ve found that the more I praise them, the more they work towards their goals.

If your school does not have progress monitoring tools in place, easyCBM.com has free progress monitoring tools that you can use to track growth. Just remember with progress monitoring you track the student’s growth at their instructional level. So, if the student currently functions at a 3rd-grade level and they’re in the 7th grade, you should progress monitor at the 3rd-grade level. You should set a goal to close the gap by a grade level or more by the end of the school year, but for some students, perhaps that goal isn’t realistic. You’ll need to determine the realistic nature of your goal-setting based on the types of disabilities and the obstacles faced by the individual student. Continue to tweak your interventions based on progress-monitoring data, which definitely gives you more information more frequently than benchmarking data.

By the end of the year, you’ll know which students will show growth on the end-of-grade tests and which ones have a chance of passing the end-of-grade tests. Is it realistic to assume that all of our special education students will pass the state assessments? That’s more of a rhetorical question than anything. Don’t answer that. Just recognize and celebrate the growth of your students and continuously monitor to ensure that you are growing them. At some point, some of them will pass. They can all learn. We just need to know which ones need more interventions than the rest.  I would suggest using benchmarking data to track grade level growth periodically, but rely heavily on progress monitoring data to ensure what you’re doing in the classroom is working.

What do you use for progress monitoring and how often? How do you encourage struggling students? 




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