Choosing a Progress Monitoring Measure

The easyCBM system is designed for benchmark assessments to be given at a students' actual grade level (progress monitoring measures can be used off grade level) for grades K-8th grade.

Benchmark tests are actually screeners and are given to students at their grade level to see where they are academically compared to students in their own grade, at a particular time of year. If you already know that a student is not performing at their grade level then the progress monitoring measures should be implemented instead.

While we don't have one test or screener you can give a student that will pinpoint exactly where he should start, we do have tools you can work with to help determine and then work to improve his skill level in both reading and math. The goal of the program is to help students work towards being able to function at their grade level in the 50th percentile range.

To help determine what grade level tests to administer depends to a great extent on what information you already have on a student. For instance if you have a 4th grade student, and you know they are functioning below the 4th grade level, perhaps start testing them at the third grade level and go up or down in grades and/or skill levels depending upon the results you get from their testing. To compare test scores with students in the various grades levels you can refer to the Progress Monitor Scoring Guidelines". This should give you a ballpark idea where his skills vs. grade level lies. You will have to play around with various tests but eventually you will be able to determine where his skill and grade level aptitude are.

If they are functioning at the 50th percentile in a lower grade try them in the next grade up to see how they score. For reading, the skill sets stair-step up in difficulty beginning with the fundamentals of reading: Letter Names, Phoneme Segmenting, Letter Sounds, and progressing up to the more difficult skills of Word Reading Fluency, Passage Reading Fluency, and the hardest of all, Proficient Reading. They might possibly do better in higher grades of basic reading skills but need to drop down to lower grades on the more difficult skill sets. You are not only trying to determine where their knowledge lies but also their ability to read and understand words and sentences.

For a student not functioning at their grade level, you can assess them at different grades but the goal will always be to get them back on their expected grade level as soon as possible and at the 50th percentile.

Although we don’t have a single test you can have a student take to determine the grade-level performance, there is a process you can use to help determine their skill and the most appropriate grade level assessments to use to monitor their progress.

The easyCBM assessments are built on a scale of progressive difficulty, with each grade level becoming more challenging, and each measure type within a grade level also ‘stair-stepping’ up in difficulty. For example, with a sixth-grade student, the teacher has the following tests to select from: Proficient Reading (which provides information about that student’s skill in literal, inferential, and evaluative comprehension), Basic Reading (which provides information about that students’ skill in literal comprehension of both informational and literary text), Vocabulary (which provides information about the student’s ability to make sense of words and phrases used in context), and Passage Reading Fluency (which provides information about the student’s ability to read aloud narrative text with accuracy).

The teacher might begin by administering the on-grade-level measures of Passage Reading Fluency and Proficient Reading to a student. Once the scores are in the system, the teacher should look at the student’s graph—if the score falls above the 50th percentile line, then one can say that ‘this particular skill area is not the issue’. If the student’s score falls between the 20th and 50th percentile, then one can say ‘this particular skill is an area of weakness’ and that measure type can be selected for progress monitoring.

If the student’s score falls below the 20th percentile, then the teacher knows: (a) there may be reason to suspect an even earlier skill deficit (in this case, maybe the student has never mastered phonics, so the Letter Sounds measure would be the most appropriate to use for monitoring progress while at the same time ensuring that the student is being instructed in phonics; (b) if the subsequent test of Letter Sounds (available on the K and Grade 1 “Measure” tab on easyCBM) indicates that the student is at or above the 50th percentile in that skill area, then the issue is probably not one of basic phonics, but is, instead, indicative of a need for additional fluency-building work, but at an earlier grade level (to firmly establish sight words).

If the student scored well below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade fluency measure, the teacher would likely drop 2 grades (to 4th grade)—it is likely that the student would obtain a score that falls between the 20th and 50th percentile lines—this is the range at which the measures on easyCBM are most sensitive to growth/most appropriate to use. If the student’s score is right at or just below the 20th percentile on the 6th grade measure, teachers can bump the student down to the 5th grade form of that measure instead.

The goal is twofold: to determine what underlying skill deficit might be leading to the student’s “not proficient” score and to identify the appropriate measure to use to monitor the student’s improving skill as he/she receives targeted intervention/instruction aimed at addressing those skill deficits.

In all cases, the teacher needs to assist the student in moving up to the most challenging grade-level tests they can, as quickly as they can, but each student’s trajectory is likely to be slightly different (it will depend on their level of initial skill/underlying skill deficits; the intensity of intervention provided to him/her; his/her ability to benefit from that particular intervention [as well as motivation to improve]; attendance [a student must be present to benefit from instruction], etc.).

For a 6th grader who requires intensive instruction in phonics (Letter Sounds), it is unlikely teachers will be able to make up all the ground they need to get her to on-grade level comprehension by the end of the year, but teachers can certainly make good progress toward that goal, with the intention to continue to make progress in subsequent grades.

Letter Sounds/basic phonics is a skill area in which the teacher should be able to see dramatic improvement in a matter of weeks for older students. This assumes that intensive and appropriate instructional intervention is being provided to ensure the student acquires the skills they missed. Ideally, older students (grade 2 and above) should move from the 10th to the 50th percentile on the Letter Sounds measure in a month’s time or less.

Building fluency takes longer, but average growth is about four to six words correct per minute per week for students who are far behind their peers AND who are receiving instructional interventions specifically targeting fluency building (repeated readings, choral readings, reading aloud to younger children/parents/mentors, etc.). The teacher should see student rate of growth exceed six words correct per minute per week; otherwise, the student is not ‘catching up’ but merely maintaining the existing gap.

For low performing students, the teacher should select an out-of-grade-level fluency measure but move the student up to the next grade level up as soon as he/she performs at the 50th percentile mark. For example, if the teacher starts a 6th grade student on the Grade 2 Passage Reading Fluency measures, the student should be ready to move to the Grade 3 Passage Reading Fluency measures after four to six weeks of intensive fluency building work (designed to reinforce phonics for unfamiliar words and to move additional words into her sight vocabulary through repeated exposure).

Once a student is reading fluently at grade level (50th percentile mark on grade-level Passage Reading Fluency measures), they probably have sufficient fluency skill to be able to start focusing more on comprehension. Until they are at that threshold, it’s likely that the student’s working memory capacity is allocated to decoding unfamiliar words rather than attending to the “bigger picture” of actual comprehension, except at the most literal level. Once a student is able to read more fluently, he/she is able to focus on making meaning from the words in the text and can begin to focus on inferential and evaluative, as well as literal comprehension.

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