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V.4 #4 Literacy - Progress-Monitoring: Measuring Success in Literacy

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

Progress monitoring is a scientifically-based practice that is used to assess students’ academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2009). This practice of monitoring instruction forms the very foundation of the Response to Intervention movement that is required in schools through federal regulations. It is progress monitoring that assists teachers in determining the effectiveness of instruction. The practice, if implemented correctly, is changing the educational playing field, as it measures how students are progressing within the curriculum, and the effectiveness of the research-based practices being used. This practice results in generating data that informs the teacher as to the effectiveness of instruction, and permits fluid movement of students into tiers of instruction. These tiers of instruction assure that students get what they need based on data, and the continued use of data assures that students are remediated quickly and effectively, and further assures that ineffective practices (for that student) are not continued if progress is not noted.

Progress monitoring is the repeated measuring of a student’s level of proficiency in a certain skill. In literacy, this would be the use of probes that measure fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension, the key to effective progress monitoring is to assure that you are measuring the same skill. That does not mean the test items are the same, but they are at the same level and measuring the same skill. It is a practice that is used to assure that instruction is targeted and effective at leading to skill development. Tools used for progress monitoring in schools are DIBELS, AIMSWeb, and curriculum-based measures. This varies from the ongoing practice in school of giving Unit test 1, then Unit test 2, then Unit test 3, as each of these assessments is measuring different skill sets.

When progress monitoring is implemented correctly, the benefits to students accelerated learning. This is manifested through more appropriate instruction, and more informed instructional decisions. Ineffective practices are quickly abandoned and new strategies tried, to assure student growth in skill areas.

Another value to progress monitoring is the documentation of student progress for accountability purposes. Documenting the results of progress monitoring probes that measure particular skill areas over time provides valuable information for school-based teams to make informed decisions with regard to varied instructional programs, practices or supports that may be effective for the student.

The development of these data sources over time provides more efficient communication with families and other professionals about students’ progress. Generally this data can easily be translated into charts that can show progress or the lack thereof by plotting the data over time. This use of data, with fidelity, over time provides a blueprint of the child’s learning patterns and assists educators in truly individualizing instruction for the student.

The use of data to inform instruction naturally leads to higher expectations for students by teachers. Goals are set and instruction is precisely designed to have the student meet or exceed those goals. Failure to meet the goals in a measured amount of time leads to changed instruction, as there are many ways to meet the needs of student when they are acquiring skills.

Finally, this instructional pattern of monitoring progress ultimately leads to fewer referrals to special education. Instruction is catered to the needs of the student and research-based practices are modified if they are not resulting in student success. The Instructional Support Team (IST) has responsibility to suggest varied practices at the classroom and more intensive intervention level. This team-based collaboration continues until the student’s learning needs, appropriate instruction or intervention is determined and success is realized.

To implement progress monitoring, you must begin by determining the student’s current levels of performance. Next, goals are identified for learning that will take place over time. The goal should be ambitious, but attainable. Goals should also be based on the intensity of the intervention. Once instruction begins, the student’s academic performance is measured (probed, progress-monitored) on a regular basis, usually weekly or monthly (again depending on the level of intervention). Progress toward meeting the student’s goals is measured by comparing expected and actual rates of learning and this data is graphed. Instruction or intervention is then adjusted as needed based on the individual student’s learning needs.

Overall, the use of progress monitoring results in more efficient and appropriately targeted instructional techniques and goals.


Fuchs, D. & Fuchs, L.S. (2009). Response to intervention: Multilevel assessment and instruction as early intervention and disability identification. The Reading Teacher, 63, 250-252.


Erin Ax, Ph.D. is a nationally certified school psychologist. Erin obtained her doctorate in school psychology from the University of South Florida where she collaborated with reading first schools and the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). Currently based in New York City, Erin works as an independent consultant assisting schools in implementing and refining a Response to Intervention (RtI) model. Erin has presented at numerous conferences and has served as adjunct faculty in the Masters of Education Programs at Hunter College and Pace University and the Doctoral Program in Educational Psychology at CUNY.

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