Mrs. Bertram sat at her desk and sighed as she read the multifactored evaluation in front of her. Mario, one of her fifth-grade inclusion students, had just been evaluated and found eligible for special education services in reading, math, and written expression. She felt confident about developing meaningful individualized education program (IEP) goals and objectives for reading and math, but writing was in many ways more difficult to target. First, there are so many subskills involved in writing that she felt overwhelmed with trying to prioritize his deficits in order to write goals and objectives for his IEP. Second, the assessment of written expression was so much more subjective. Mario could write a thoughtful and creative narrative that she rated as rather good, but that his language arts teacher, Mr. Martin, found too riddled with errors to merit a passing grade. The 4-point rubric that Mr. Martin used to assess student writing was not a sensitive enough measure to capture the small improvements that students make in written expression. She knew Mario should be writing every day, but assessing that much writing took much of her time. His general education teachers often did not require much writing, so she had to somehow include it in his resource room time, but she admitted she found it difficult to find the time to have her students write in class, so they often wrote for homework. They typically wrote so very little that she couldn't tell if they were improving or not. Mario, in fact, often did not write enough for Mr. Martin to even provide a score on the 4-point rubric.
How could she develop goals and objectives for written expression that could be reliably measured by either her or Mr. Martin? Were there fluency measures for writing similar to those for reading and math? Were there easy-to-use, reliable, and valid writing assessments that could help her determine what skills Mario should be working on?
What's the Problem?
Setting meaningful individualized education program (IEP) goals and objectives is one of the challenges that special education teachers face. In written expression, this task is even more difficult. Not only is assessing writing a subjective and difficult endeavor, but writing itself is a complicated task. Proficient writing is a demonstration of many skills including, but not limited to, spelling, usage, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, ideation, summarization, and critical thinking. Because many students with disabilities struggle with written expression, these skills should be targeted for instruction, but it is unrealistic for teachers to create IEP objectives for each skill area. Teachers need to know how to prioritize each student's written expression deficits, and they need access to measures that are efficient indicators of overall writing performance.
What's the Solution?
Curriculum-based measurement (CBM), an alternative to informai observation and standardized testing (Deno, 1985), is one tool teachers can use to assess academic skills, develop meaningful IEP objectives, and target instruction. This article provides teachers with information about CBM, various measures for written expression, and how to use those measures in assessment and throughout the IEP cycle (i.e., setting goals, informing instruction, monitoring progress, and sharing performance data).
What Is CBM?
CBM is a fluency-based evaluation approach intended to give teachers a means to monitor a student's progress within the curriculum, encouraging immediate instructional adjustment when necessary. CBM is characterized by direct, reliable, and valid measures; simple, efficient, and inexpensive protocols; and easy-to-understand graphic displays of data (Deno, 1985).
Examples of common curriculum-based measures are number of words read aloud correctly in 1 minute for reading and number of correct digits written in 2 minutes for math. There …