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With Liberty and Progress for All

By Mary Blow on August 10, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

How do you monitor your students' success?  As a classroom teacher, we play a role in Response to Intervention (RTI) and ensuring that every student on every ability level is demonstrating annual yearly progress (AYP).  I admit, it is a challenge, especially at the secondary level. I track my 6th grade students' progress by having them keep a portfolio. I also utilize data to ensure that I am meeting the needs of all my students. 


I am not by any means a data guru. Luckily, I don’t have to be. So, how do I assess and address the needs of over 100 students? In the information age, it is easy to get distracted by all the data that is available, so I focus on data that targets my content area, English and literacy development:


  • Reading comprehension
  • Oral reading fluency
  • Written expression
  • Spelling



Standardized Assessment

Before the school year begins, I analyze state test scores from the previous year. The data provides a general assessment of my incoming students’ strengths and weaknesses in reading, writing, and listening skills. However, standardized testing data does not indicate whether or not a child has test anxiety or if he or she were sick on the day of the test. Subsequently, I view this information only as an introduction to each child. I need more information to get the whole picture.



Formative Assessments


During the first week of school, I collect data on each student to establish benchmark levels and instructional needs.  Instructional time is valuable, and with over 100 students, assessments must be quick and informative.  If a student scores below proficiency level, he or she receives additional support, and progress monitors are implemented as necessary.  In addition, progress monitors are given to all 6th grade students in the winter and spring to ensure that all students are advancing. 

AimswebFor the past three years, I have used AIMSweb, a benchmark and progress monitoring system,  to assess reading comprehension, oral reading fluency, and written expression.  Each assessment is given in 3 minutes or less, making it feasible to implement monthly probes if necessary. The student data is entered into a web-based data system, which generates informative reports on student progress. Additional reports are valuable for student grouping, curriculum planning, and parent conferences.  Once the information is in the system, it  travels with the student throughout middle school, which is nice for subsequent teachers. 

WtwAlthough AIMSweb has a spelling component, I prefer Words Their Way's spelling inventory because it provides more detailed data that suggests which stage of spelling development each child is at: "Letter Name—Alphabetic," "Within Word Spelling Patterns," "Syllables and Affixes," and "Derivational."  I know that if a student struggles with inflectional endings or affixes, I can diversify instruction to address that child’s needs.  Spelling data is important because the word spelling patterns correlate with the ability to decode words, a skill that impacts reading fluency rate and reading comprehension. Ultimately, this data is used to guide curriculum development and diversify instruction to meet every student’s needs.  

There are other progress monitoring systems.  Scholastic recently launched Reading Assessment Management System & Reports, which is comparable to AIMSweb, except that AIMSweb also has a math and behavioral component.  Jim Wright's Intervention Central Web site offers free articles and assessment tools, including curriculum-based measurement in reading and math.  If you want a less formal approach, 3-Minute Reading Assessments: Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension: Grades 5–8, by Nancy Padak and Timothy Rasinski is well worth checking out as well.  0439650909_lg



Data Driven Instruction


There are many resources for instructional strategies that foster the acquisition of reading and writing skills.  My favorite resource, purchased for a graduate course, is Reading and Learning to Read by Richard T. Vacca, et. al.  I call it my “dial-a-cure” for literacy illnesses.  Intervention Central provides categorized lists of intervention resources for literacy and math.  Greece Central School District, in New York, provides a fabulous online resource with instructional strategies and materials that foster the acquisition of reading and writing skills: Reading Strategies: Scaffolding Students' Interactions With Texts

As the year progresses, I'll share some of my strategies in depth. If you have assessment resources or instructional strategies you love, please share them in the comments section.  The more strategies we have in our bag of tricks, the more effective we are in the classroom.





  • "What is AIMSweb?" Pearson, n.d. Web. 30 July 2010. www.aimsweb.com.
  • Bear, Donald R., Marcia Invernizzi, Francine Johnston, and Shane R. Templeton. Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction. 4 ed. Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.
  • Burkey, Linda C., Mary K. Gove, Lisa A. Lenhart, Christine A. McKeon, Jo Anne L. Vacca, and Richard T. Vacca. Reading and Learning to Read. 7 ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2008. Print.
  • Padak, Nancy, and Timothy V. Rasinski. 3-Minute Reading Assessments: Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension: Grades 5-8. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Print.
  • "Reading Strategies." Greece Central School District. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2010. www.greece.k12.ny.us/instruction/ela/6-12/Reading/Reading%20Strategies/reading%20strategies%20index.htm.
  • Wright, Jim. "Intervention Central | Home." Intervention Central | Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Aug. 2010. www.interventioncentral.org.





Comments (4)

Ronica, Yes, I test all my students 3 times a year: fall, winter, spring. Those below grade level are assessed more often. Believe me, if it took a lot of time, I wouldn't be able to do it. I am fortunate because I have a 6th grade reading teacher who does the reading assessments, and I do the composition assessments--divide and conquer. My AIS teacher does the dibels. AimsWeb allows you to insert dibels data. They just don't have the actual hard copy of the dibels as a part of their downloadable assessments. The assessments, all except one, are given to the entire class at one time. They take 3 minutes of class time.

Do you test all of your students or just the ones you feel are at risk of needing remedial help? Does your remedial teacher use/help with the AIMSweb?

Hi, Nancy. I'll have lots of technolgoy tips coming your way. At the beginning of they year, there is a lot of groundwork to put into place. Assessing my students' strengths and weaknesses is interesting, but it isn't always fun.

Wow, a lot of amazing things here! You are single-handedly getting me up to speed on using technology!

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