Using Curriculum-Based Measurement to Drive IEPs and Instruction in Written Expression

By Hessler, Terri; Konrad, Moira | Teaching Exceptional Children, November 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Curriculum-Based Measurement to Drive IEPs and Instruction in Written Expression


Hessler, Terri, Konrad, Moira, Teaching Exceptional Children


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 are several curriculum-based measures used in written expression including total words written, words spelled correctly, correct writing sequences, correct writing sequences minus incorrect writing sequences, correct punctuation marks, and total different words.

Why Should I Uso CBM?

There are many compelling reasons for using CBM in written expression. First, for special education teachers, using CBM can be an integral part of the IEP. Teachers who use CBM for progress monitoring are easily able to write meaningful, measurable goals and objectives for their students. CBM can (a) support IEP teams in meeting legal mandates for progress monitoring (Etscheidt, 2006); (b) give teachers an alternative to holistic and percent-correct measures that impose artificial ceilings (see box, "The Limitations of Holistic Scoring and Percent Correct"); (c) provide measures that are valid, reliable, and sensitive to incremental changes (see box, "What Does the Research Say About Using CBM to Assess Writing Skills?"); (d) allow for frequent assessment of writing without requiring students to produce fully developed pieces; and (e) provide a "picture" of student performance to facilitate sharing of information about progress with students, families, and other IEP team members.

CBM also improves instruction by informing teachers of the need to change or improve teaching strategies (Deno, 2003). The IEP document itself is only useful if it is an effective tool for instruction, that is, if it is created not only to fulfill the letter of the law but also as a guide to produce student progress and achievement (Heward, 2008).

For 2 decades, CBM has gradually become more visible, particularly in reading and mathematics (e.g., Crawford, Tindal, & Stieber, 2001; Ysseldyke, Betts, Thill, & Hannigan, 2004). Use of CBM to monitor student progress in written expression has not seen the same popularity. Only in recent years has the research literature seen an increase in the use of CBM in written expression as schools and teachers face the realities of federal legislation that requires more specific accountability and high-stakes testing, particularly in the special education population. …

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