Getting the Right Data

by Sharon deFur, Ed.D., and Lori Korinek, Ph.D.

Do you feel like you are drowning in data? You have SOL data, practice test data, test grades, homework, and standardized tests, not to mention daily mental or written observations of individual students or assessments made by related service providers. You must monitor progress of students with disabilities on IEP goals as well as progress in the general curriculum. WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?

This T/TAC newsletter focuses on helping educators meet these requirements by carefully choosing the right data and then connecting these data to instruction. This approach to progress monitoring promotes individual student achievement in the general curriculum.

Progress Monitoring Steps

Progress monitoring includes four essential steps:

Step 1: Identify goals directly aligned with curriculum or student needs. Alignment with SOL targets and/or IEP goals helps ensure that the focus of data collection is access to, and success in, the general education curriculum. Progress monitoring begins with this end clearly in mind.

Step 2: Collect relevant data on a frequent basis. Assessments should produce data directly tied to goals for which teachers and students are held accountable. Frequent data collection (daily and weekly) allows educators to catch mistakes early, re-teach when needed, and accelerate instruction where possible. Observations, samples of student work, rubrics, and other informal assessments make frequent data collection possible and instruction more efficient.

Step 3: Analyze data using visual means to interpret student progress. Using graphs, charts, or other visual means of comparing student performance to a standard makes the degree of progress real. Too frequently, educators stop progress monitoring at data collection. Researchers agree that merely collecting curriculum-based data does not impact student achievement. Rather, the strongest outcomes result from analyzing information and then reflecting on instructional practices (Deno, 2003; Fuchs & Fuchs, n.d.; Green, Alderman, & Liechty, 2004; Jackson, Harper, & Jackson, n.d.). When appropriate, accelerate instructional goals to close the instructional gap for students with disabilities!

Please remember that student achievement does not happen in a vacuum. Students' academic progress is also influenced by personal contexts, the utility of their individual accommodations or modifications, and the supportive climate of the general school environment. Understanding what your data mean and imply must happen within these contexts.

Step 4: Make instructional decisions based on careful interpretation of the data. Instructional decisions include whether you maintain your current instruction or whether to change students' goals, interventions, groupings, methods, accommodations, modifications, or other aspects of curriculum and instruction. IDEA 2004 and NCLB mandate that progress monitoring and reporting examine the degree to which students' academic and functional achievement approximates that of their nondisabled peers while keeping high expectations at the forefront.

Benefits of Progress Monitoring

Progress monitoring promotes achievement. In addition, Deno (2003) identified improving IEPs, enhancing teacher planning, predicting performance, enhancing communication, measuring growth, formulating screening and evaluation alternatives as effects of progress monitoring. Local Virginia special educators (who, unlike participants in Deno's studies, used both formal and informal measures to monitor progress) gave their opinions about progress monitoring benefits at a focus group conducted at the College of William and Mary (deFur, 2005). These, Virginia special educators reported that progress monitoring focuses instruction and avoids wasting time on skills already mastered, enabling teachers to identify skill areas needing additional instruction while making program changes more responsively. Participants described instruction as more specific, accurate, and informed. Improved instructional differentiation and curriculum pacing were also noted. The comment was made that progress monitoring "fixes errors in thinking." Fixing errors in thinking changes how we teach and improves outcomes for students with disabilities.

"Enhanced communication" pervaded the dialogue about systematic progress monitoring among these educators. They reported "significantly improved" communication with parents and "facilitation of" a shared understanding of the child's progress and instructional needs, which led to improved parent satisfaction. Virginia special educators noted that sharing monitoring results with students increased student motivation levels and self-monitoring skills. They expressed the hope that general educators would collect or use the information provided by progress monitoring to help differentiate instruction to more universally design instruction for all students.

You Can Do It!

Progress monitoring does not have to feel so daunting. To begin, start small. Partner with a co-teacher or grade-level teammate who can support your efforts. Choose one critical goal or objective for a student or the class and pre-assess. Choose the best (i.e., most efficient and effective) tool(s) that capture student performance data that YOU can reasonably collect and review (talk about) on a regular basis. Choices include formal measures such as valid and reliable classroom, SOL, and other state assessments. Informal measures include assignment rubrics, behavioral observations, grades, student work samples, and video or audio tapes. Students may be involved through procedures such as self-charting, portfolio development, and use of rubrics. Talk about your results with someone. Tell them what worked and what didn't. Explore why. Brainstorm what you should do next. Decide your next instructional step that will move your students forward in their academic achievement. Consider how you will make progress monitoring an integral part of your instructional practice.

Progress monitoring remains powerful and is worth the effort when students, families, teachers, and administrators thoughtfully engage in a process of frequent data collection, display, analysis, conversation, and reflective instructional decision-making. This newsletter gives you many ideas for using progress monitoring as part of your effective teaching repertoire.


deFur, S. H. (2005). Transforming the IEP. Paper presented at the Oxford Roundtable, Oxford University, Oxford, England.

Deno, S. (2003). Developments in curriculum-based measurement. The Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 184-192.

Fuchs, L.S., & Fuchs, D. (n.d.). What is scientifically based research on progress monitoring? National Center on Student Progress Monitoring. Retrieved February 23, 2005, from

Green, S.K., Alderman, G., & Liechty, A. (2004). Peer tutoring, individualized intervention, and progress monitoring with at-risk second graders. Preventing School Failure, 49(1), 11-17.

Jackson, R., Harper, K., & Jackson, J. (n.d.). Effective teaching practices and the barriers limiting their use in accessing the curriculum: A review of recent literature. National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved February 27, 2005, from

Date: November/December 2006