Data Based Decisions

In the past, educational decisions were made for struggling students using standardized tests, classroom observations, teacher referrals, student support team suggestions, and parental requests. The research in assessment for learning disabilities, in particular, has shown that many more students were identified than what would be expected in a normative sample. This phenomenon called for a more sophisticated system that would provide direct, observational data generated by the student’s performance in relation to the academic tasks.

Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) was identified as a system that included timed probes such as simple spelling surveys, writing or math calculation probes or oral reading fluency probes. These probes are timed and the score of each probe is then compared to peers at the same grade level to determine where a student stands relation to their grade level peers. A set of norms was needed at each grade level to illustrate the continuum of academic skill development for students.

CBM became viewed as the most efficient method to determine progress in the acquisition of basic reading, writing and math skills. CBM probes are very inexpensive and easily used by teachers and highly trained paraprofessionals as well. Students across the nation were assessed and the scores analyzed in order to provide a set of norms that could guide schools when comparing students across grade levels. The norms have been analyzed carefully to ensure that they are reliable and have the predictive ability to indicate a student’s ranking in skill development.

For oral reading fluency, Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) operationalized the oral reading fluency norms in use today. In addition to the scores across grade levels, this research added percentile rankings and expectations for fall, winter, and spring for grade levels from 1 to 8. Students’ scores are compared to other students at enrolled grade level in order to find the percentile ranking that best describes the student. Students who score between the 11th and 20th percentile rankings are generally considered at the Tier 2 level. Students who score below the 10th percentile for their grade level are considered in need of intensive intervention at Tier 3. If there is a large number of students in Tiers 2 and 3, this indicates the need to review and make substantial changes to core reading and/or math instruction.

The use of standardized norms has proven successful for a number of years and allows students to be ranked on a continuum of normative development in skill areas that research indicates is highly predictive of overall development. This is very important as classrooms will contain students at a variety of levels of development and norms allow educators to determine the severity of a student’s needs. By monitoring a student’s progress with norms, educators can identify if the student is making progress and at what rate. Using norms provides a way to follow a student along a continuum of interventions that go from general classroom differentiation to standard interventions appropriate for common problems, as well as highly individualized interventions. The triangle graphic often used to describe RTI as a multi-tiered instructional model is an attempt to illustrate this continuum. Three areas that educators can document through RTI include: 1) teachers’ anecdotal comments regarding the student’s learning, 2) a student’s changes in instructional focus, and 3) names and types of interventions provided. This documentation can paint a fuller picture of a student’s performance that cannot be gained from a standardized test alone.

Data based decision making using any or all of the CBM norms and probes is highly useful in determining the intensity and direction that intervention should take. The National Center for Progress Monitoring has extensive guidance in how to use CBM norms to make quality decisions. The effectiveness of special education can be analyzed for reading, math, or behavior using progress monitoring and CBM. A student’s current CBM score is an excellent source for generating the present levels of academic and functional performance section of the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Considering the diversity of the American classroom, and knowing the limitations and bias in standardized testing, using CBM is a concept that has a powerful future.


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