Data on student progress play a key role in identifying students who have a specific learning disability, and also in ensuring these students are making fast enough progress toward the learning goals outlined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEP).
What is a Specific Learning Disability?
A specific learning disability (SLD) is defined as a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language (either spoken or written). It might show itself in the inability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations effectively, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, or dyslexia.
Identifying a Specific Learning Disability
There are many reasons why students might struggle academically. For instance, perhaps the child’s family has moved a lot, or maybe there has been a death in the family. These types of experiences can significantly disrupt the learning process. Progress monitoring data can help educators determine whether students truly have an SLD, or if they just need help getting over a temporary speed bump in their learning.
When a student’s school performance indicates deficits, educators can select and implement an intervention matched to the student’s learning needs. The intervention should be accompanied by progress monitoring with a brief assessment that measures the intervention skill.
Progress monitoring involves assessing students at regular intervals to see how well they’re responding to an intervention . Students who respond quickly to an intervention most likely don’t need special education services. However, if students don’t respond quickly, this might indicate they have an SLD.
The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) explicitly allows for the use of progress monitoring data to support IEP eligibility when an SLD is suspected In fact, progress data are more reliable for decision making purposes than single-point-in-time assessments.
As an important note: student progress data indicate how a student has responded to a certain intervention, but that is only part of the story. A student’s progress scores must be compared with other sources of information to determine whether that child has a specific learning disability.
Progress monitoring is typically used with students receiving Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions as part of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) . Progress monitoring is also required for students who are already on an IEP. All IEP goals must have progress measures, and any student who has been identified as having an SLD should participate in regular progress monitoring to determine their progress toward meeting the specific learning goals in their IEP.
Elements of High-quality Progress Monitoring
If educators don’t have reliable data on how students are responding to interventions, they can’t monitor progress toward IEP goals—and they are missing out on a key strategy for identifying students who might have a specific learning disability. Having a reliable progress monitoring system is critical for schools today.
High-quality progress monitoring involves three components:
(1) Frequent, brief assessment of specific skills in reading, math, and/or social-emotional behavior (SEB).
(2) Multiple equivalent forms of content, so that you can measure the same skill with different stimuli. For instance, in reading, having different stories about different ideas but at the same reading level gives teachers a way to see if a student’s skills have changed over time.
(3) Assessments must be sensitive to changes over short intervals, so that you can measure students’ changes in progress over time.
The more frequently schools collect progress monitoring data, the faster they have reliable information that educators can use to review the effects of interventions and to identify an SLD; progress data can also be used to improve interventions to help students succeed. Research suggests that weekly progress monitoring of students with an intervention or IEP is ideal.
To collect accurate progress monitoring data, an effective MTSS is essential. For instance, FastBridge uses research-based screening and progress monitoring tools in reading, math, and SEB to match students with appropriate interventions and ensure these are working quickly enough.
An important advantage of using FastBridge for progress monitoring is the system’s FAST Projection Line™ , the only tool that provides an accurate prediction of future growth in only six data points as opposed to the usual 12. This allows educators to make accurate decisions around interventions without losing additional weeks or months of testing time.
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