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Using FAST in Special Education

By: Yvette Arañas

In previous posts, I have indicated the importance of making educational decisions for all students from assessment data. This idea is especially important in special education, as it is meant to help students with special needs improve their self-sufficiency and academic success. Without the use of data, it would be difficult to determine whether special education services are helping these students succeed.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004), special education teachers are expected to set goals and keep track of the educational achievement of students who are receiving special education services so that teachers know whether they are providing appropriate and effective services. Each student in special education has an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), which establishes the student’s annual measurable goals, as well as the services and supplementary aids that the school will provide to the student. The IEP must include the following components:

  1. The student’s present levels of academic or behavioral performance.
  2. Measurable short- and long-term goals and objectives.
  3. Services that the student will receive through special education.
  4. Accommodations and modifications to testing and educational programming.™

Each of these components require some use of assessment data to make decisions. Below are details for each component, as well as suggestions for how to use FastBridge Learning’s assessment system—the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST™)—for students receiving special education services.

Present Levels of Educational Performance
This section of the IEP summarizes a student’s performance in academic and behavioral areas and provides information about the student’s strengths, his or her needs, and how the disability is impacting his or her performance. The present levels should be expressed objectively and be based on assessment data in order to inform what type of services should be provided to the student.

Let’s say that a fourth grader named Maria receives special education services for a specific learning disability in reading. As part of the Present Levels section of the IEP, her special education teacher writes, “A review of Maria’s performance on grade-level curriculum-based measures for reading indicates that she needs to improve her reading accuracy and rate. During the spring screening period, Maria read 89 words per minute on a grade-level passage with 87% accuracy, which is below grade-level expectations (150 words, 95% accuracy).”

Note that Maria’s teacher does not simply write, “Maria is struggling with reading.” Instead, she provides a quantitative description of Maria’s performance in reading and is able to do so because she collected assessment data. For students receiving special education services for academic concerns, teachers can use data from a number of different FAST™ tools to help quantify a student’s present level of performance. FastBridge Learning provides many curriculum-based measures that are aligned with Common Core State Standards and can be used for collecting screening and progress monitoring data. These measures include earlyReading, earlyMathCBMreading, CBMmath, and AUTOreading.

Data for a student’s current level of behavior performance also should  be collected for students who struggle with behavioral and/or socio-emotional skills. FAST™ includes the Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS) for grades K-12. The SAEBRS can be used to screen students up to five times a year for social, academic, and emotional behavior problems.

FAST™ includes benchmarks and norms for the assessments mentioned above so that special education teachers can determine the grade-level expectations for their students. The automated data reports in FAST™ also provide visuals to help teachers understand how their students’ performance compares to average grade-level students in the country, within the district, within the school, and within the student’s general education classroom.

Please note that when writing a student’s present levels, it is important to look at multiple sources of assessment data. In addition to using FAST assessments, educators should also use information from observations, interviews, and other test data (e.g., state assessments and classroom unit tests).

Measurable Goals and Objectives
After identifying a student’s present levels, the case manager must look at the present data, identify areas of need, and establish annual goals for the student. Annual goals ideally should follow Paul J. Meyer’s recommendations for creating SMART goals, meaning that they should target a specific area (e.g., accuracy in reading, time spent staying in one’s seat) and be measurable, achievable, relevant to the student, and time-bound. In addition, case managers should explain how the goals will be measured and record notes on the student’s progress towards each goal a few times a year.

1_Setting PM Goal ExampleUsing FAST™ assessments makes it easy to establish goals for the student. When creating a progress monitoring group for students receiving special education services, the teacher can use the default rate of growth in FAST™ (usually 1.5 units a week) to determine what the goal should be. If this suggested rate of growth is not achievable or realistic for a specific student, the teacher has the option to manually change the goal. The visuals on the progress monitoring graphs can help teachers identify whether or not a student has met a goal by a specific date.

Special Education case managers also are  expected to create short-term objectives, which are intermediate steps between the student’s present levels and the annual goal. Like the annual goals, these objectives should be measurable and can be assessed using FAST™ tools.

Special Education Services, Accommodations, and Modifications
Assessment data should not be collected just for the sole purpose of collecting data. Data are meant to inform decisions. For this section of the IEP, the case manager should use the assessment data to outline the special education services that should be provided to improve a student’s skills, accommodations that should be made to give the student equal opportunities to access the general education curriculum, and modifications or supplementary aids that the student would need for testing or daily classroom activities. This information should help the student advance toward his or her annual goals.

FAST™ data reports provide information to help case managers know what type of instruction should be provided to the student. In a previous blog post titled “Best Practices for Using Data in the Classroom,”  we provided guidelines for interpreting progress monitoring data to inform instruction. If a student’s progress monitoring data show that a student is still below his or her goal line for reading rate, the services should include an intervention that will address that issue. Importantly, FAST™ reports include indicators about all aspects of reading skills. For example, if the student’s reading rate is at goal, but his or her reading accuracy is below 95%, then the first intervention should target reading accuracy.

The collection, interpretation, and use of assessment data are necessary to help improve student outcomes, no matter what type of services and education a student is receiving. Data-based decision-making provides a framework that lets us know whether or not something works for a student and allows us to change or adapt our instruction to improve students’ skills. When using assessment systems like those from FastBridge Learning, we are likely to be more successful in helping all students—including those who receive special education services—achieve to the best of their ability.

Yvette Arañas is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. She was a part of FastBridge Learning’s research team for four years and contributed to developing the FAST™ reading assessments.Yvette recently completed an internship in school psychology at a rural district in Minnesota.

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