As a new school year begins, we all hope our students will excel academically. The schools spend a lot of time and money not only in instruction, but in assessments to assure that instruction is reaching our students. Recently, several changes in federal education legislation have impacted the way schools address the needs of diverse and/or struggling learners.

Response to Intervention, or RTI, refers to a tiered approach to instruction. Students who do not make adequate academic progress and who are at risk for reading and other learning disabilities receive increasingly intensive instructional services. RTI models call for school-wide screening three times a year, progress monitoring of performance on a frequent basis and tiered instruction.

Within the RTI structure are several tiers, or levels, of instruction. General education is referred to as Tier 1. Additional tiers, usually two or three, use increasingly intense levels of instruction (for example, smaller groups, more time, more progress monitoring). All school staff members use instructional methods and materials that have been proven to work effectively. School staff members — including the principal, general education teachers, special education teachers, interventionists and school psychologists — work together to help each child be successful. School staff members make sure that instructional materials and methods are used exactly as intended.

Screening, monitoring

The school gives all students a screening test — usually three times each year — so that teachers and staff will know how students are progressing and which students need extra help with academic work. If a child’s screening scores indicate lower-than-expected achievement, he or she may need extra time with a teacher or skilled staff member in addition to regular instruction.

This year, in Madison County, the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) will be used as the screening test. The MAP is an assessment package created by the non-profit group, the Northwest Evaluation Association and takes the place of PAS/ThinkLink for elementary and middle school students. MAP assessments are aligned with Kentucky core content and are taken on the computer.

The assessments are adaptive — as the student responds to the test, the test responds to the student, by adjusting up or down in difficulty. These test results can be used to identify the skills and concepts individual students have learned, determine instructional needs, monitor academic growth over time, make data-driven decisions at the classroom, school, and district levels and place new students into appropriate instructional programs.

For students needing extra help, school staff members frequently — at least once every week — check the progress of each student to see what changes, if any, need to be made in the instruction and to find out whether the extra instruction is making a difference. Keeping close track of progress is called progress monitoring. Teachers use the information gained through progress monitoring to determine whether the instruction is working and to make decisions about instruction.

Research findings suggest that the best method of progress monitoring is Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM). Each CBM test is based on all of the skills that are going to be taught in one school year. These CBM tests — often one to five minutes each — are brief. This is so they can be given often and so they don’t take valuable time away from instruction.

Madison County teachers will be using the CBM measures provided by AIMSweb to monitor the progress of struggling students. AIMSweb is a progress monitoring system based on direct, frequent and continuous student assessment. The results are reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators via a web-based data management and reporting system to determine response to intervention.

How does CBM work?

When CBM is used, each child is tested briefly each week. The tests generally last from one to five minutes. The teacher counts the number of correct and incorrect responses made in the time allotted to find the child’s score. For example, in reading, the child may be asked to read aloud for one minute. Each child’s scores are recorded on a graph and compared to the expected performance on the content for that year. The graph allows the teacher, and you, to see quickly how the child’s performance compares to expectations.

After the scores are entered on the graphs, the teacher decides whether to continue instruction in the same way, or to change it. A change is called for if the child’s rate of learning progress is lower than is needed to meet the goal for the year. The teacher can change instruction in any of several ways. For example, he or she might increase instructional time, change a teaching technique or way of presenting the material, or change a grouping arrangement. After the change, you and the teacher can see from the weekly scores on the graph whether the change is helping your child. If it is not, then the teacher can try another change in instruction, and its success will be tracked through the weekly measurements.

Benefits of CBM to Parents and Teachers

CBM evaluates the success of the instruction the child is receiving on a continuous basis. Changes to instruction can be made quickly based on the data.

CBM allows the instructor to identify students that are not learning fundamental skills crucial to more advanced schoolwork.

CBM gives the instructor accurate information about the rate at which individual students are able to complete academic tasks.

CBM also can be used to directly compare the performance of targeted students to classroom or grade-wide norms to determine whether a particular child is as fluent as classmates in a given skill-area.

Extensive research has shown that CBM can reliably track students’ academic growth.

A CBM graph provides a clear visual representation of an academic performance goal for the school year and your child’s progress each time the measurements are taken.

CBM graphs can help create a common understanding among parents, teachers, administrators, and other professionals.

Because of the visual record that graphs provide, students can keep track of their own progress; in addition, seeing their graph change week by week often motivates students to work harder toward their goals.

For more information on Response to Intervention or Progress Monitoring and Curriculum-Based Measurement, see the National Research Center on Learning Disabilities Web site at or the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring at

Mary Margaret McNemar is a school psychologist serving Madison County Schools at Silver Creek Elementary, Kingston Elementary and Shannon Johnson Elementary.

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