Back to School Series, Pt. III: How to Track Your Child’s Progress

As we continue our Back to School (Virtually!) series with special education lawyer Grace Clark, it’s time to talk about progress monitoring. As much as we may wish it were otherwise, we are now the ones best poised to see how our kids are faring with distance learning.

So how does this work?

       HERE ARE 5 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

  • Find your child’s spring 2020 IEP and highlight their goals and past progress reports.
  • Print out a handful of copies of this handy progress monitoring worksheet or download this awesome app that records and transcribes (such as your child’s awkward virtual OT session) for instant documentation.
  • Choose a day or two each week when you’re able to observe and document on your child’s work.
  • Compare their past progress on goals with their current work each week, as you’re able.
  • Keep these notes and observations in one place: they’ll help you plan for your upcoming IEP addendum meeting.

Read on for Grace's answers to our burning questions. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to let us know.

A blank white notebook sits on a wood tabletop, with watercolors arranged in the top left and a slew of paintbrushes and one pencil at the bottom.
A blank white notebook sits on a wood tabletop, with watercolors arranged in the top left and a slew of paintbrushes and one pencil at the bottom.

• How should progress monitoring work virtually? Are parents responsible for keeping track of progress? How should we expect the district to keep track? What should we ask for when school begins?

During typical, pre-COVID times, student progress monitoring is a practice that helps teachers use student performance data to continually evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching and make more informed instructional decisions. Traditionally, progress monitoring is implemented by the teacher to determine a student's current performance level on skills that they will be learning that school year. For students receiving special education, these skills are often tied to the goals identified in their IEP. The teacher establishes a rate of progress the student must make in order to meet those goals, and measures the student's academic progress regularly (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) using brief, easily administered measures or assessments. If a student’s learning is not on track, the teacher can consider using more intensive methods of teaching, such as small group or one-on-one instruction, reteaching some material, or offering more opportunities for a student to practice a skill.

Now that students are learning from home, teachers are unable to monitor their progress in the traditional ways. The difficulty of obtaining student levels of performance is compounded when a school is not administering assessments, as many districts currently are not. It therefore falls to the parent to attempt to monitor their child’s learning and progress from home.

While most of us do not have access to many of the informal assessments that teachers use regularly in classrooms, as parents, we are in the best position to observe and record our child’s progress (or lack thereof). While monitoring progress is not required, parents who can keep track of how their child is progressing during distance learning will have an advantage over those who don’t. Schools are still responsible to provide a free, appropriate public education to students, even during distance learning. Your efforts from home can help ensure that your child receives theirs.

 

• Why should you monitor your child’s progress?

First, monitoring your child’s progress will help you communicate with your child’s teacher about adjusting instructional strategies. For example, if your child is getting all of their spelling words right each week, perhaps the teacher can give your child some additional words to learn. Or, if your child cannot get the hang of fractions without a lot of help and support from you, maybe the teacher can work with him or her during their office hours. Making these small adjustments to the type of instruction your child receives can ensure they continue to learn at a pace that is right for them, as well as make consistent progress toward their goals.

Keeping track of your child’s progress will also help inform the goals that you and the IEP team set at the next IEP meeting for the following academic year. Typically, a teacher will maintain formal and informal assessments. This information is used by the IEP team to determine a reasonable amount of progress that your child should be able to achieve over the academic year, and set goals accordingly. As parents, we want IEP goals to be appropriately ambitious to ensure that our child is given the proper supports to make significant progress in their areas of need.

This year, your child’s teacher will likely be unable to maintain the same amount and quality of assessments to determine at what level your child is working. If you’ve been tracking your child’s present levels of performance, the IEP team can include this data to create goals in your child’s IEP that are appropriately challenging. Doing so will help your child continue to learn and grow despite the distance learning format because the school will have the obligation to provide enough support to your child so they can achieve their goals.

Last, keeping data about your child’s progress can help you to obtain compensatory education in the event that your child is not being provided with FAPE. Tracking your child’s progress is one way of establishing that they have not been making the expected progress.  (For more on this, see last week’s discussion on compensatory education.)

 

• Is “app progress tracking” enough? How can this be validated without appropriate assessments? How can a district depend on virtual progress monitoring but not virtual assessments?  

If you want to monitor your child’s progress during distance learning, but don’t know where to start, you’ll need to decide on a method to record your observations. There are some apps and software that will do this for you, but you can also simply record your findings on a notepad, digital portfolio, or spreadsheet. (The folks over at NAVLaw have provided a great one here. For those of us who are especially overwhelmed, NAVLaw also let us in on a little secret: the app Otter Voice Meeting Notes allows you to record whats happening in real time, and then transcribes it for instant documentation.) However you do it, you’ll want to create a system of collecting data over time and regularly monitor your child’s progress, either weekly, biweekly, or monthly.  If your child is struggling, plan to monitor more frequently so they don’t get too far behind before you request intervention from their teacher. Record the dates you plan to assess your child’s levels on a calendar, so you can keep track.

One of the simplest ways to collect data is to capture your child’s authentic work. You may have seen teachers bring work samples to your child’s IEP meetings — you’ll be doing the same thing. By keeping a sample of a piece of writing or math work, you can demonstrate to your child’s teacher or the IEP team exactly how their work looks. These work samples can be saved by taking a photograph, a video, scanning a worksheet, or saving a computer document.

Once you have a work sample that you feel is representative of your child’s ability, make some notes about the work:

  • Does it indicate the presence or absence of a skill?
  • How many times did your child have to try before they showed the understanding of the skill?
  • What was the number of correct and incorrect responses?
  • How many responses did they give before they got the right answer?
  • How much assistance did your child need before they could demonstrate knowledge?
  • Did they remember what they learned between lessons? 

These types of questions may not apply to every kind of skill, but in general, they will help you record the kind of data that can help your child’s teacher and the IEP team determine your child’s present levels of functioning, how to adjust instructional strategies, and how to craft appropriately ambitious IEP goals.

 

• What if our kids aren’t making progress? What options do we have if distance learning flat-out does not work, even despite decent efforts from the district? What responsibilities do districts still hold? 

Districts still have the responsibility of providing FAPE to every child. If a school is unable to meet a child’s needs with the programs they have, they are required to obtain and fund those programs from outside sources. This is how many children end up attending non-public or private schools funded by school districts. One option for parents who feel their child is not being provided with FAPE by their school during distance learning is to look for alternative placements or therapy providers that may be able to meet their child’s needs. Many agencies have contracts with local school districts. Even without a contract, a district can be required to reimburse a parent for the cost of a service that a child needs to access their education which the school cannot provide.

 

Conclusions

Recently, in mid-August, special education attorney Mark Martin presented a webinar hosted by COPAA on how to measure student progress. Like Grace Clark, he also stresses the fact that all decisions about whether IEP goals are appropriately written (and whether a student may need compensatory education) are based on hard data. Data can take many forms — grades, progress reports, classwork, informal or formal evaluation tools, teacher or service provider observations, comparison to the progress of all students, interdisciplinary consults — but data is also, very importantly, inclusive of parent feedback. Since you are now the person with the greatest access to your child’s work at home, you should also track their progress in a format the district can accept.

To gather data during distance learning, Mark recommends the following:

  1. Study your child’s IEP.
  2. Review January–March 2020 IEP progress reports — that’s your baseline.
  3. Gather, create, and maintain the following:
    1. Test skills that are in the IEP. 
    2. Record behavioral observations—attention/focus, refusal, etc. 
    3. Keep a notebook of what your child can do.

And, as Grace echoes above, here’s what to do with that data:

  • Address past and new deficits at an IEP team meeting.
  • Work to develop means of assessing progress.
  • Seek additional services based on student needs:
    • Is a change in placement (or a move to external provider)  necessary? 
    • Does the student have the right to compensatory educational services?

 

Stay tuned for the next installment in our Back to School series: how to approach assessments during distance learning!

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