Expert Connection : April 26

Selecting Useful Data for Teaching—Laura Berry Kuchle


I'm an inclusion teacher who pushes into elementary classrooms. I get lots of test data but I'm not sure what is important. What do you suggest is the most important data I should collect to guide my instruction?—Libby from Philadelphia, PA.

Additional Info:

Libby, in today's schools where it may seem as though almost every other sentence includes the word "data," it's no wonder that people wonder how to sort useful data from those that one can, perhaps, safely save for later. For help with this topic, we asked experts at the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII), where Rebecca Zumeta (chair of DLD's committee on Professional Development, Standards, and Ethics) is Deputy Director. Rebecca invited Laura Berry Kuchle, Ph.D., who is a school psychologist on the NCII staff, to address this question. Laura's expert answer follows. Our hats are off to Laura for helping here!—Peggy & JohnL, Co-editors, TeachingLD.org

Expert Response:

Data help us make better instructional decisions for our students, but sometimes, you’re right, we have access to so many different data that it is hard to know where to focus. Different kinds of assessments inform different kinds of decisions. Summative assessments such as unit exams and state achievement tests tell us what students have already learned. Your school probably has ample data to tell you the general areas, such as reading or math, where your students are struggling. However, these tests may not provide enough information to plan instruction and generally occur too infrequently to help us make quick, responsive changes in instruction. What would really help is some simple means of monitoring whether the students are making progress toward important educational goals. Progress monitoring is a type of standardized formative assessment that lets us know how well a student is responding to our current instructional practices, letting us know when we need to make a change.


As a reminder for those who are new to progress monitoring, the two main approaches to progress monitoring are mastery measurement and general outcome measurement. Mastery measures focus on a single skill, such as single-digit addition. A probe for a mastery measure in reading, for example, might assess how many simple "sight" words a student could read in a minute. General outcome measures, in contrast, reflect overall competence in the annual curriculum, allowing us to assess long-term growth, retention, and generalization of skills. General outcome measures will allow you to establish your students’ current baseline performance, set appropriate goals, and monitor their rate of improvement. Words read correctly from a grade-level text is a familiar example of a general outcome measure.

More frequent assessment allows us to make quicker instructional decisions so a student spends less time with a plan that is not working for him or her. Accordingly, students with the most intensive needs should be monitored at least weekly. Generally, six to nine data points will allow a savvy teacher to make a strong decision about whether a student is on track to reach his or her goal. There are lots of good sources about using progress monitoring to guide instruction. In addition to those you can find right here on TeachingLD (see the list at the end of this article), check the website of the Research Institute on Progress Monitoring and a host of resources from the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII), including a webinar and a training module.


When progress monitoring data suggest a student is not making sufficient progress, we need to consider several factors.

  • Has the instructional plan been carried out as intended? Implementing evidence-based instructional procedures with fidelity is critically important for helping students succeed.
  • Is the student engaged in instruction?
  • Is it possible the student’s skills are improving but the progress monitoring tool is not capturing growth? This can happen when the tool does not match the student’s instructional level or when the student’s performance is affected by motivational or attentional issues.

If we rule out or address these factors, however, and the student is still struggling, we know an instructional change is needed. Diagnostic assessment helps us identify specific strengths and weaknesses in a student’s academic skills, helping us plan instruction and intervention. Formal, standardized diagnostic assessments are available, but sometimes informal diagnostic assessment is enough to guide instruction. For example, error analysis of the progress monitoring assessments you are already using can reveal patterns of strengths and weaknesses, helping you identify specific skills to target for intervention. For more information about informal assessments, see the NCII training module on informal academic diagnostic assessment. Part 3 focuses on miscue or error analysis of curriculum-based measures (specifically, oral or passing reading fluency and mathematics computation). Part 4 supports identifying target skills in reading and math.

In summary, the important ideas are to collect general outcome measures frequently, use those data to determine whether students are making adequate progress, and adjust instruction accordingly. I hope this is helpful and that the resources linked here will provide useful guidance.

TeachingLD Resources on Monitoring Progress

Curriculum-Based Measures: Are There Ways to Use CBM in Content Areas?—Christine Espin

What Growth Should Kids Make on CBM Measures?—Lynn Fuchs

Formative Evaluation (Alert #3, Spring 2000), by Christine Espin, Jongho Shin, & Todd Busch (link is for a PDF download)

Curriculum-Based Measurement in Reading: Oral Fluency Instruction, by Erica Lembke & Todd Busch

Progress Monitoring in Reading Using the CBM Maze Procedure, by Todd Busch & Erica Lembke

Tutorial: Curriculum-Based Measurement in Reading: Oral Fluency Instruction, by Beth Harn & David Chard

Tags: progress monitoring, cbm, Zumeta, assessment, NCII, Kuchle

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