Part 1: Monitoring Progress, Progress Monitoring and Learning Progressions–What IS the difference?

Boy in Chemistry class

What do these three terms have in common? Progress, of course. Educators and parents across the globe all want to enable their students to make progress. When my fourth grader’s teacher sends home a weekly folder with his work samples and tests, a “check” or a “check-plus” tells me that he gets it, or he pretty much gets it, and a “check-minus” gives me the impression that he has more work to do, but I don’t know what pathway he needs to take to move from the “check-minus” to the “check-plus”, and what is the best way to get him there.

Currently, educators frequently measure what students know and what they don’t know, but this “mastery measurement” does not provide information on students’ progress or learning pace so that they can ultimately meet the standards we set for them. Monitoring is an integral part of ensuring that students make progress, but what is the difference between monitoring progress and progress monitoring? They sound like they’re the same, don’t they? And how do learning progressions fit in? In previous posts I defined and described learning progressions and why the Research & Innovation Network thinks they have promise. In today’s post (Part 1) I will distinguish monitoring progress from progress monitoring. In Part 2, I’ll share ideas of how I think learning progressions can inform both.

Monitoring progress is a core instructional practice that includes formative assessment, questioning, providing feedback, and similar strategies. All teachers monitor their students’ progress throughout the year, using a variety of strategies, but these strategies are not standardized and vary greatly in quantity and quality. Formative assessment plays an important role in monitoring progress, but some teachers are more comfortable with formative assessment than others, and all teachers could use tools and resources that would make conducting formative assessment easier.
Monitoring progress is a core instructional practice that includes formative assessment, questioning, providing feedback, and similar strategies.

Progress monitoring is a term used to describe a formal part of Response to Intervention (RTI); it is a scientifically based practice used to assess students’ academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. It was originally designed for use in individualized special education, but is now seen as a useful approach for many different types of students (Safer & Fleischman, 2005). Teachers are trained to use student performance data to continually evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction. Students’ current levels of performance are determined and measured on a regular basis. Progress toward meeting goals is measured by comparing expected and actual rates of learning, and teachers are prompted to adjust their instruction based on these measurements.

Curriculum-based measurement (CBM) is one type of progress monitoring. A CBM test assesses all of the skills covered in a curriculum over the course of a school year. Each weekly test is an alternate form (with different test items but of equivalent difficulty) so that scores can be compared over the school year. Students’ scores are graphed over time to show their progress (see examples here); scores are expected to rise as students are learning and are exposed to the curriculum. The rate of weekly improvement is quantified as the slope of the line, which teachers can compare to normative data. If scores are flat, it signals the need for additional intervention.

How can learning progressions help with both monitoring progress and progress monitoring? Stay tuned for ideas in my next blog.