Types of Assessments
There are a number of different ways that schools measure and report student progress-standardized assessments, results of state-wide assessments, mastery tests of units of study, work products, benchmark assessments, to name a few. Some of these types of assessment results may be listed in your child’s present education levels and it is important to know what this information is and isn’t informing you about your child’s progress. Results of the standardized achievement testing performed by the school psychologist and reported in the Evaluation Report will provide a global indicator (average, above, below, superior) of your child’s performance in a subject area as compared to a group of children at his/her age/grade level across the country. However, this information tells you very little about your child’s progress or current grade level in the curriculum used in your child’s current classroom. Of course, you already know that your child isn’t working at his/her chronological age/grade level in certain subjects, based on low (or failing marks) on traditional mastery tests, benchmark assessments, or work products, and ultimately his/her referral for an evaluation. Failing several unit tests in reading during the fall of second grade indicates that your child isn’t reading at a second grade level, but it doesn’t tell you at what grade level your child is reading satisfactorily. This information is critical in establishing a baseline from which incremental progress is measured, but it is rarely available from one source only. Informal reading inventories (IRIs), curriculum based assessments (tests taken from the actual curriculum being used instructionally), placement tests from research based instructional programs, and diagnostic scoring of work products are good ways to establish baseline performance. Assessments must be administered at consecutively lower difficulty levels, until a point is reached where your child can perform satisfactorily. From that point on, your child should be measured at specified intervals with the same type of assessment so that you can do the “apples to apples” comparison.
The Limitations of Curriculum Based Measurements
Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) is a type of progress monitoring that is used extensively by schools to measure progress on a student’s IEP goals. One CBM system that your child’s special education teacher may mention is AIMSweb. The AIMSweb measurement uses brief, valid, and reliable measures of reading and math performance called general outcome measurements. General Outcome Measurement is a process of measuring one simple thing (like correct words read per minute) the same way over time to make a statement about something complex (like reading comprehension); or using a measurement of how many correct writing sequences a student produces during a three- minute writing spree in response to a sentence starter to indicate that the student is making overall progress in writing. Although these general outcome measures of reading and writing fluency can be indicators of overall progress in these subject areas (particularly in the primary grades), many experienced teachers will tell you that students can become proficient at these isolated skills but not make progress toward grade level standards in critical writing or reading comprehension.
If your child’s progress in math is reported in correct math calculations per minute, but there is no information on how he/she is doing on more complex skills, such as problem solving, measurement, estimation, and other grade level math skills you should ask the teacher to provide you with assessment information that provides evidence that your child is progressing in those higher level skills. If your child’s progress in reading is reported in correct words read per minute (fluency), but you are not clear on how (s)he comprehends what (s)he reads and at what grade level, you should ask the teacher for that information and expect a clear explanation of how the levels were assessed. For writing, ask to see an actual sample of your child’s writing and a comparison with a satisfactorily written sample at his/her grade level. The teacher should be able to explain specific skills that your child needs to work on such as spelling, sentence complexity, organization of content, etc. These skills areas should be reflected in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals.
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Additional articles in this series:
- Is Your Child Making Progress On The IEP?
- Where To Find Information About Your Child’s Progress in the IEP