What is Progress Monitoring in Special Education?

What is progress monitoring in special education? Why is it important? Why are special education teachers always complaining about paperwork and data sheets?

Let me just start off by saying that I am not exactly the running type. It is not that I can’t run, it’s just that if I am not being chased, I really don’t see the point. In college, I could manage through the occasional 5K if it benefited some charity, but running was definitely not my idea of fun.

Let’s also add that I am pretty competitive. Any enneagram 3’s out there? One day a guy friend told me that there was no way I could ever run a 10K. So obviously I signed myself up for a half marathon. Now, if you are wondering, a half marathon is about 10 miles longer than anything I had ever done before. 10 miles. That is a lot. But I had a goal so I came up with a plan. I found a cute decorated plan on Pinterest and followed it exactly. Each Sunday, I would have a long run and this was a good time to see how close I was to meeting my goal of 13.1 miles. In the end, I was able to finish the race. It felt like death and I never hope to do that again.

Here’s the point – I needed those terrible long runs on Sunday to make sure I was on track to meeting my goal. Those long runs are just like progress monitoring in special education: little check-ups along the way to see if we are on track to meet the goals we set.

In this post, we will answer the following questions:

  • What is progress monitoring in special education?
  • Why is progress monitoring important?
  • What does progress monitoring look like?

If you are already an expert in progress monitoring and want to know how to make progress monitoring a little easier, go check out my Guide to Digital IEP Goal Progress Monitoring Graphs.

What is progress monitoring in special education?

What is progress monitoring in special education?

Progress monitoring is the way special education teachers assess if a student is on track to meet their IEP goals. Any student with an IEP will have annual goals for the areas they are receiving special education services. We get these goal areas from the identified needs in the student’s evaluation report. Therefore, every need identified in that report should have an IEP goal and service related to it.

Needs, Goals, Specially Designed Instruction

Why is progress monitoring important?

Think back to my story about running a half marathon. There is literally NO WAY I could have completed that run if I never went out and tried to run more than 3 miles. I had to keep checking my abilities and adjusting my training to meet my goal.

Progress monitoring is very similar. Individualized Education Plans are legal documents. If we tell families about the goals we set for their child, but then do not track progress at all until the following year, and report on their progress at the end of the year, we basically wasted a whole year of instruction. Instruction should be flexible and individualized. In this case, it legally has to be! It is our job as special education teachers to determine if our students are making enough progress and change our teaching methods accordingly.

Let’s talk specifics. I have a kiddo who is working on identifying the first 100 Fry Sight words. When this goal was first added to her IEP, she could read 20 out of 100. So, if I spread out how much growth she needs to make over the whole length of her IEP, I figured out she needs to increase her score by about 10 words per month to meet her goal. Then, I track her progress each month. Over the course of 3 months, she only increased by 18 words. This means she is not on track to meet her goal. Time to make a change! We added a new strategy for practicing sight words and got her back on track for meeting her goal. 

What does it look like?

Progress monitoring IEP goals looks different based on the goal. In a legally defensible IEP, the goals should clearly outline how the goals will be monitored and how often. (If you haven’t heard the term legally defensible IEP, then I am guessing all your professional development hours aren’t with your district’s lawyer. Yes, they are super boring but they keep you out of court, so…)

Here are a few examples:

Goal: Given non-controlled passages at the 2nd grade level, Student will read 62 words correct per minute with 93% accuracy on two out of three consecutive probes as measured weekly (Baseline: 26 words correct per minute)

  • Each week I would give the student a 2nd grade level non-controlled passage. This means it is just a regular passage and doesn’t only use specific phonics patterns). I would time their read and see how many words the student read correctly in one minute.

Goal: Given controlled text word lists containing single and multisyllabic words containing closed and vowel-consonant-e syllables, Student will read with 90% accuracy on two out of three consecutive probes as measured weekly. (Baseline: 40% accuracy on single closed syllables)

Goal: Given one-step word problems involving addition or subtraction, Student will solve with 80% accuracy on two out of three consecutive probes as measured every other week. (Baseline: 0%)

  • This goal is different from the first two examples because it states that it only needs to be monitored every other week. For this type of goal, I would give the student several word problems. Then, I would calculate the accuracy of their responses.
Why is progress monitoring important?

Here is the main thing

Progress monitoring in special education is the way we make sure that our students are on track to meet their goals. If they are not on track, we change the plan to help them get there. Progress monitoring is going to look different based on the goal. Since everything in special ed is individualized, progress monitoring needs to be specific to the student as well.

Find me on instagram @LearningSupportLady for more helpful tips on all things special ed.

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Hi, I'm Rachel!

I am a second grade learning support teacher, adjunct professor and momma to two little girls! I help teachers like you get organized and create systems to save time.

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