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The (Overlooked) Relationship Between Progress Monitoring and IEP Goals

We’ve talked before about the benefits of implementing progress monitoring. The most notable of which, is that tiered supports are designed to be a way of meeting all students’ learning needs. In many cases, students with school difficulties are able to get back on track through such supports. In years past, such students might have struggled or failed for a long time, and then have been referred for special education services.

Thankfully, students no longer need to “wait to fail” in order to access help in school. Still, there are students with disabilities whose educational needs are addressed with an individualized education program (IEP) and these services are an important component of universal public education in the U.S.

What is often overlooked is the fact that students with IEPs need — and can benefit from — progress monitoring as well. There are many FAST™ progress measures that can be used to track student progress toward IEP goals. This blog will provide information about how to use FAST progress assessments within special education.

IEP Goals and Progress Monitoring

All IEPs are required to have both annual goals and interim learning objectives. There should be a progress measure matched to each IEP goal that will be used regularly to track the student’s progress toward each goal. Although information about the progress measure that will be used should be included in the IEP, many states and school districts have special education policies that prohibit the mention of a specific progress assessment by name.

This is because using the trademark name of an assessment in an IEP could be interpreted as a guarantee to use only that measure. There are many similar published progress measures that could all be used to track a student’s progress. Therefore, many IEPs will include a description of the type of assessment, but not the trademarked name.  For example, a student with an IEP goal for reading fluency might be matched to a progress assessment stated as “a measure of oral reading fluency.”

Selecting the Best IEP Progress Measures for Math, Reading, or Behavior

To be helpful, a progress assessment needs to measure the specific skill taught in the instruction. Some students with IEPs might have goals below their current grade level. As a result, the progress measure will need to reflect the instructional grade level.

It might be possible to identify the student’s current instructional level from the current instruction or from universal screening data. If the student’s instructional level is not clear with the available data, it is possible to use one or more FAST screening assessments to learn more about the student’s skills. When developing IEP goals and progress measures it is important to use multiple sources of data.

The following table shows the available FAST™ progress measures and the skills they measure.

MeasureSkill(s) Covered
Math
  • earlyMath Numeral Identification
Number System
  • earlyMath Decomposing-1
Operations
  • earlyMath Number Sequence-K
Counting and Cardinality
  • earlyMath Match Quantity
Counting and Cardinality
  • earlyMath Quantity Discrimination
Expressions and Equations
  • earlyMath Place Value
Number and Operations in Base 10
  • CBMmath Automaticity
Operations
  • CBMmath CAP
Expressions and Equations
  • CBMmath Process
Operations
Reading
  • earlyReading Letter Names
Concepts of Print
  • earlyReading Onset Sounds
Phonemic Awareness
  • earlyReading Word Blending
Phonemic Awareness
  • earlyReading Word Segmenting
Phonemic Awareness
  • earlyReading Nonsense Words
Phonics
  • earlyReading Decodable Words
Phonics
  • earlyReading Sight Words
Fluency
  • CBMreading
Fluency and Comprehension
  • CBMcomp
Comprehension
Behavior
  • Direct Behavior Rating
Unique individual behaviors

Any of the above progress measures can be used in an IEP. It is important to note that if a student did not complete a FAST™ screening assessment, it might be helpful to conduct the screening at the planned grade level in order to know the student’s starting point.  This will also make it easier to set a student’s FAST score goals. FastBridge Learning recommends that students with IEPs complete weekly progress assessments.

The rationale for weekly monitoring is that students with IEPs have significant skill gaps that require specialized instruction. Having weekly progress data helps the team know how well the instruction in the IEP is working and what needs to be changed.

Reviewing Student IEP Progress Data

IEP progress is formally reviewed at the end of each school quarter as well as during the annual team meeting. Special educators can look at progress data as often as they like but are encouraged to review scores at least every 6 weeks in order to be sure that the student is making effective progress toward goals.

Progress data can also be included in the quarterly and annual reports. As a component of these reports, the FAST Progress report can be attached so that parents can see student progress on a regular basis as well. It is worth noting that progress data can also be used in relation to determining whether a student still needs special education services.

For example, if a fifth-grade student is making good progress in developing better reading skills, and such progress is shown in a CBMreading graph but the monitoring level is third grade, then the need for ongoing services is evident. At the same time, the team could discuss and create a plan for how to accelerate the student’s reading skills so that fourth-grade instruction and monitoring can be achieved.

Conclusion

In summary, progress monitoring is an important tool for supporting the learning needs of all students.  It provides a way to see each student’s real-time learning outcomes and helps teachers adjust instruction as needed.  Students with disabilities who have IEPs can benefit from progress monitoring just as much as other students. FAST progress measures can be used to monitor IEP goals and objectives and the Progress Monitoring reports can be included with quarterly and annual updates to parents.

Rachel Brown, Ph.D., NCSP

Dr. Brown is the Senior Academic Officer at FastBridge Learning. She was a faculty member at the University of Southern Maine for 16 years and has authored multiple books and articles about Multi-Tier Systems of Support (MTSS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and effective academic instruction.

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