4 Best Practices for Progress Monitoring during Virtual Learning

By Jennifer Meller, Associate Manager

As expected, monitoring progress in a virtual environment for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can look a little different than in the traditional brick-and-mortar setting. Due to distance learning, providing high-quality, evidence-based progress monitoring and reports can be difficult. Some student goals, like those related to peer conflict resolution or behavior during class transitions, may not be an area of need in a virtual learning space. In other cases, such as task-specific goals for behavior like sitting in assigned seats, may require the IEP team to discuss if the goal needs to be revised or if an alternate form of data collection can be used. And depending on how instruction was provided last spring at the start of the pandemic, progress monitoring baseline data may need to be recalculated.

The primary benefit of conducting ongoing progress monitoring is that educators will have continuous data towards IEP goals for students. Such monitoring can, and should, be used broadly to provide feedback to all students but is critically important for students with IEPs to meaningfully update goals, accommodations, and services. Progress monitoring data may also help inform placements, provide continuity of progress communication with families and students, and assist in measuring the impact school closures had on student progress or regression.

Even in this uncertain school environment, progress monitoring is still doable (and necessary)! Thoughtful consideration of when, how, and under what conditions progress monitoring is carried out is a necessary discussion for IEP teams. Here are a few ways in which educators can apply best progress monitoring practices to virtual instruction and establish a system for tracking data that can transfer over to when schools reopen to full in-person or blended instruction.

Assess Your Starting Point

Take time to reflect where and how progress monitoring has changed with virtual instruction, and what questions are priorities for progress monitoring over the next few months. Have IEP team members discuss together:

  • Has student learning been improving since the school closures in the spring, or is it stagnant? What adjustments, if any, were made during instruction over the spring or summer, or over the past few weeks, to keep student learning progressing?
  • Are there students who need more engagement with their learning now? In what ways?
  • How will a shift to in-person or blended learning change the current progress monitoring approach?
  • What information can be gathered from parents regarding their children’s experiences during the time of school closure and distance learning, including primary areas of need, ability to access services, and other information critical to meet students’ needs as schools reopen?

After collecting progress monitoring data, analyze patterns for individual students and groups of students, and evaluate the data to determine whether students are making progress, maintaining skills, or demonstrating a loss of skill. Take immediate action to adjust student learning plans and supports using this information.

Develop a Flexible Data Collection System

Though current circumstances may require a change in assessment tools or strategies, whenever possible, teachers should continue to work with the same tools and measures previously used for IEP goal progress. Knowing that many are not in the physical classroom conducting progress monitoring, though, it may be helpful to identify pre-existing online resources, such as AIMSWeb or DIBELs, that can make it easier to document data on specific student skills. Reviewing questions to consider when deciding whether to conduct virtual progress monitoring, verifying if an assessment can be administered virtually, and understanding the limitations of virtual assessments are part of developing a data collection system that works.

Establish Clear Expectations

Intentionally scheduling time for all relevant staff (e.g., general education teachers, English learner teachers, special education teachers, instructional/related services providers) to have regularly scheduled virtual meetings and planning time together and setting clear expectations for coordinating specially designed instruction and reviewing progress monitoring data will go a long way to ensuring teachers have the information they need to make appropriate instructional adjustments as schools reopen.

Developing a protocol and training staff in how to use that protocol for documenting IEP goal progress, accommodation, and specially designed instruction will help ensure consistency and support students. How often will data be collected? Who will review it, and when? What template will they use? How will this information be shared with parents? Create or iterate on an existing excel sheet like this sample IEP Goal Tracker or create a google or other shared form that all IEP team members can use to capture important information quickly. Determine how IEP teams can keep using these protocols even after potential shifts to in-person or blended learning to maintain consistent data collection.

Communicate Student Progress

The need for strong partnership and communication between home and school is critical. During this time, providing families with consistent and easily accessible information regarding how their student is progressing on their IEP goals helps promote and sustain important connections between students and their teachers, a source of vital support and stability for students. Communication tracker templates like this sample, may be a useful tool, and can be revised based on the goals of the student to help parents understand their child’s focus of the week. Schools can also increase parent partnership by using a Parent Progress Monitoring Form to identify goals that can be met at home and work with the parent on when and how to support progress monitoring.

Final Word

Progress monitoring can be difficult because of virtual learning. Ensuring schools are continuing to progress monitor, though, increases student outcomes and better informs instruction now and for when schools can move to in-person or blended learning. We recommend: (1) assessing your starting point, (2) develop a flexible data collection system, 3) establishing clear expectations, and (4) communicate student progress.

How PCG Can Help During an Unprecedented Time

COVID-19 is creating significant challenges for school districts across the country. PCG is always looking for ways to support districts and students.

Progress Track. PCG’s web-based progress monitoring tool provides teachers with simple data collection to proactively facilitate problem-solving, enhance student learning, and improve education outcomes.

Special Education Research, Action Planning, and Facilitation. Subject matter experts and consultants can research best practices, inventory resources, guide action planning, and facilitate the development of digital learning instructional continuity plans to help you address emergency situations that result in interrupted education for students with disabilities.

Virtual Instruction Toolkit. This toolkit contains a library of tools and resources to help educators establish Online and Distance Learning instructional models based on best practices

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Meller, an Associate Manager in PCG’s Education practice area, leads the firm’s efforts in providing districts with comprehensive special education program evaluations and technical assistance in the areas of staffing, stakeholder engagement, compliance, finance, data use, and best instructional practices for students with disabilities. Dr. Meller focuses on engagements that support districts and state departments of education with identifying and implementing best practices specific to Results Driven Accountability and General Supervision/Monitoring for special education. She designed and has administered PCG’s national survey on the use of IEP systems and regularly authors thought leadership pieces about special education.

Prior to joining PCG, Dr. Meller worked in the School District of Philadelphia as a Special Projects Manager in the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of Operations in the Office of Specialized Instructional Services. In these roles, she focused on building programs that supported student’s social and emotional growth, implemented student-focused data management systems, supervised federal and state reporting, and oversaw several multi-million-dollar federal grants. She also taught classes at Dale Carnegie Training and oversaw the development of a youth leadership curriculum.


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