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V.4 #4 - Counseling/School Psychology - Curriculum-Based Assessment

Brought to you by Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW®) through the generosity of Saint Joseph's University.

Empirical research has reinforced the notion that curriculum-based assessment (CBA) procedures result in positive effects on the academic achievement of students with special needs (Jones, Southern, & Brigham, 1998). Most educators (Jones et al., 1998) agree that CBA is a systematic process of developing and implementing standards for identifying academic difficulties, measuring them and using the results to make instructional decisions. A previous article addressed the need for a curriculum evaluation to determine a student’s academic difficulties along with the delineated steps associated with selecting specific target behaviors (see Strategies for Successful Learning 3(5), May 2010 article called Curriculum-Based Assessment ). This article will focus on assessment procedures, making educational decisions based on the data results and identifying potential obstacles to the implementation of CBA.

Designing Assessment Procedures

The frequent assessment of students is advantageous providing up-to-date information, and necessary feedback for assessing student progress and making instructional decisions. However, frequent assessments are time-consuming and can be awkward to conduct. Jones et al. (1998) suggest that teachers create a routine to ensure the likelihood that instruction will directly target desired behaviors and that the effects of instruction will be routinely monitored. Afterwards, the teachers need to address what content the assessment should contain. Frequent assessments, called probes, are conducted to assess the progress the student has made on targeted skills. These probes should be quick to administer and long enough to give a reliable assessment of the student’s achievement.

Sometimes, the type of instrument employed by the teacher will be intricately connected to the target behavior (Jones et al., 1998). For example, when targeting reading comprehension, the teacher may adopt the criterion of 80% comprehension with regard to words read correctly in a passage of a given difficulty level. Choosing the assessment form that will provide the most important information with regard to the student is an important consideration. For example, when evaluating a student with writing difficulties, a graphic organizer may reveal a clearer depiction of his/her achievement than an essay.

Making Educational Decisions

Once the data has been analyzed it should be visually displayed by charting or graphing so that the teacher can easily evaluate the efficacy of the educational intervention and improve educational decisions. The visual display enhances communication to the students in regard to how well they are performing which may increase motivation (Jones et al., 1998). The teacher is then left with several courses of action depending on the effectiveness of the intervention. First, if the intervention has demonstrated ample progress in the student’s performance toward reaching the targeted behavior, then the intervention may be faded out once the targeted behavior is actualized. Second, if the student has not demonstrated appropriate progress and is either stagnant or making more errors, then a change in instruction is warranted that entails four options:

  1. Return to an easier skill. If sub-skills or critical skills have not been mastered, the teacher should teach an easier level of the task. For example, if an analysis of the student’s work on multi-digit subtraction problems with regrouping demonstrates a failure to solve problems that require regrouping with zeros, the teacher should provide subtraction problems that do not contain zeros, while at the same time provide specific instruction to address the strategy needed for regrouping with zeros.

  2. Step back to a less difficult form of the task. It is quite possible that the student is able to accomplish part of the task but unable to complete the difficult task in its entirety. Analysis of the student’s work could indicate that after 5 to 10 minutes of work, the child becomes restless and makes careless mistakes. A simple solution might be to decrease the number of problems needed to be solved at any given sitting.

  3. A different instructional procedure could be implemented. First the teacher needs to identify the student’s difficulties in comprehending instruction and then choose an alternative procedure. Perhaps the teacher’s explanations of instruction are vague, lengthy and overly abstract. The student would then greatly benefit from instruction that is clearer, concise and concrete.

  4. More ample opportunities to learn should be provided. If the instruction does not provide adequate opportunities for the student to learn, progress may not occur.

Obstacles to Curriculum-Based Assessment

Although the effectiveness of CBA has been well-researched and proven to be an effective tool for a variety of school-based decisions, including evaluating and modifying instruction, teachers do not routinely use CBA in the classroom. The primary reason appears to be the perceived notion that implementation of CBA is difficult while attending to the regular demands of teaching (Jones et al., 1998). Teachers also report that CBA takes time away from the instruction time; curriculum review, data collection, and decision making are time consuming. However, ongoing training and assistance could greatly diminish organizational and management issues in implementation. Finally, teachers sometimes feel that they are not trained well enough to implement CBA in the classroom (Jones et al., 1998). A solution for many of the obstacles cited above is to allow the CBA to be implemented while fitting comfortably into the daily routines of teachers and students. This means that CBA must fit the values and beliefs of the teachers to ensure treatment integrity and not be perceived as a burden. Another thing that should be considered is showing a clear connection between the intervention and student progress, which will increase the self-efficacy not only of the student, but also of the teacher’s perceived ability to implement CBA.


Jones, E.D., Southern, W.T., & Brigham, F.J. (1998). Curriculum-based assessment: Testing what is taught and teaching what is tested. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33, 239-249.

Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs.

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