What is Progress Monitoring?

How comfortable would you be driving a car without gauges and diagnostic lights? Would you plan your retirement investments without periodic checks to see progress? Car gauges and maintenance are proactive. Maintenance in the education world can be equated to redirecting instruction or remediation services. Further, progress checks are essential in education like most other aspects of life. Maintaining data and evaluating the effectiveness of instructional practices is referred to as progress monitoring. In other words, progress monitoring is used to measure student growth and achievement.

Monitoring educational performance of our students helps ensure that we are using research-based instructional strategies that are working with our students. Progress monitoring can sound impersonal and technical, but it is in the best interest of students. Resources, with time being the most precious, are too scarce in education to waste time on instructional practices that are not producing results for our students. To maintain a student-first approach, it is essential to monitor and reflect upon student performance data. As it would not be wise to drive our car or invest for our future without feedback, it is simply not logical to continue instruction blinded without progress monitoring.

What are the Benefits of Progress Monitoring?

The goal of progress monitoring is to increase student achievement and growth by making informed educational decisions regarding individual students. This strategy is a foundational piece for other educational practices in a data-informed educational environment. Progress monitoring should be used at the classroom, school, and district level. By examining the path of each student, school and district improvement can be achieved and sustained.

Progress monitoring leads to data-driven decision making about further instructional services. Without the use of this strategy, educators are proceeding in a blinded manner or simply guessing about what is best for a given student. Yet when progress monitoring is used effectively, teachers begin to make sound decisions about each student’s instructional plan. Teachers will know which students are succeeding and which students need remediation services. Student achievement and growth are increased as instruction becomes more individualized and differentiated based upon data.

How to Use Progress Monitoring Effectively

To utilize progress monitoring effectively, educators first must ensure that assessments that yield the data for progress monitoring are both valid and reliable. Without this consideration, the data would be significantly less valuable. That is, the assessments must be clear and aligned with standards and instruction. Simply put, the tests should measure what they intended to measure in a fair manner.

Having too many assessments can leave teachers frustrated and take away too much instructional time. Effective leadership protects instructional time. As such, an overall assessment plan is a necessary component of progress monitoring. There needs to be enough assessments to provide sound data, but not so much that little instructional time remains.

In addition, assessment methods need to be standardized so that data is not flawed. Many districts that have been successful in using progress monitoring to increase student achievement have implemented district-wide quarterly benchmarks in key academic areas. These assessments should be aligned with pacing guides and standards to ensure they are measuring the desired content.

When implemented effectively with the intent to increase student achievement, these assessments can provide the necessary student data to make informed decisions about the next step in the educational plan. Further, these assessments provide formative data so that summative high-stakes assessment results do not become surprises.

In addition, the data must be approached in an unbiased manner. Educators should view the data as formative feedback on student progress. If educators take the data too personally, they might become defensive, justify not making changes, or feel defeated. If the data shows a course of action is not working, simply remediate or reteach with different instructional strategies. Progress monitoring should provide formative feedback to the teacher, school, and district. Most importantly, the data should be used to help individual students make significant growth toward educational goals by redirecting instruction when needed.

It is imperative to note that data collection does not equate to progress monitoring. Far too often schools and districts collect a multitude of data, but do not use it effectively. To use progress monitoring effectively, the data must be used and reflected upon. That is, the teacher must use the data to drive future instruction for each student.

Moving upward in the organizational hierarchy, the school should use the data to evaluate school performance toward school strategic goals. Finally, the district uses the data from each school to assess the district’s performance toward its own strategic plan. When the focus is aligned and the data is used, students will ultimately benefit. Progress monitoring is simply using data effectively to promote student growth and achievement.