Action Step and Orientation

A4. Use appropriate assessment data to monitor students' progress toward targeted literacy goals.

This lesson focuses on how educators can use assessment data to monitor students’ progress toward literacy goals.

Part 1 provides an overview of the process of monitoring students' progress within an RTI (response to intervention) framework.

In Part 2, you will learn about reliability and validity in monitoring students' progress toward targeted literacy goals.

In Part 3, you will be guided in setting criteria for using progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Monitoring Progress Within an Effective Instructional Framework

In this lesson, you and your team will be asked to evaluate the types of assessment measures used at your campus for monitoring students' progress toward targeted literacy goals. You will also consider how effectively progress monitoring data is used at your campus to identify students' specific instructional needs. To begin, let's explore the concept of "monitoring progress" and the various ways it is applied in instruction.

An overview of progress monitoring

The practice of monitoring progress is hardly new in the field of education, and it is very likely that the effective teachers at your campus already do this in a variety of ways. Broadly speaking, monitoring progress is about answering questions such as Are my students learning on pace to attain grade-level expectations? Are they getting the new concepts I am teaching? What new concepts are my students struggling with?

In order to answer these questions, teachers commonly engage in formative progress monitoring. Formative progress monitoring refers to examining the data collected during instruction that tells teachers how students are progressing in their mastery of new concepts and helps teachers adjust instruction accordingly. As Wixson and Valencia (2011) explain, this type of progress monitoring often consists of "informal measures that are used on an ongoing basis in daily instruction" (p. 467). These measures include many types of tools, ranging from teacher-created assessments to work samples to anecdotal records. Some assessments, such as department and district tests, may be used at specific points within the curricular scope and sequence to monitor students' mastery of concepts being taught during that time period. Usually, all students receive these kinds of assessments.

Formative progress monitoring is important to literacy instruction, particularly in measuring students' mastery of the core literacy curriculum. However, this approach is not the focus of this lesson. When we consider the objectives of response to intervention (RTI), the concept of "monitoring progress" takes on a more nuanced meaning. Together with universal screening, researchers have identified progress monitoring as an essential component of assessment within RTI since progress monitoring is focused specifically on students' response to the intervention (Chard, Harn, Sugai, Horner, Simmons, & Kame'enui, 2008).

When practitioners consider the role of progress monitoring assessment within RTI, their responsibility is not just limited to how well all students are mastering new concepts in the core classroom. Educators must also consider whether a student is responding to an intervention and progressing at an accelerated pace in order to close the achievement gap between the student and his or her on-track peers. This raises questions such as How do I assess the progress of students who have been identified with specific literacy needs? How do I know the extra support I am providing to these students is working? How can I better allocate resources to accelerate the progress of students?

This lesson will focus on addressing questions such as these and guide you in understanding the role of progress monitoring within your campus assessment plan.

Progress monitoring within an RTI framework

Lessons 1 and 2 of the Assessment module use an analogy of a medical assessment to explain different aspects of educational assessment. Universal screening is compared to the common medical practice of measuring a patient's blood pressure to screen for potential health issues. Lesson 3 discusses how important it is to use additional assessments to diagnose the causes of high blood pressure in order to design the best treatments for patients. This analogy can be taken a step further to explain progress monitoring.

Imagine that during your annual physical exam, your medical practitioner sees that your blood pressure is elevated and, upon further testing, diagnoses you with high cholesterol. Your doctor then puts you on a treatment plan that includes a modified diet, a daily exercise routine, and a prescription medication. Once your doctor starts you on this treatment plan, it is very unlikely that he will wait until your next annual physical to check if your health is improving. More likely, your doctor will recommend more frequent visits and blood tests in order to assess how the treatment plan is working. Based on more regular assessments, he will adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

Just as a doctor checks in to measure the patient's response to the treatment plan, a teacher uses progress monitoring assessments to measure students' response to an instructional plan. Formal progress monitoring tools are repeated measures that capture student learning. They are usually brief assessments, and they are reliable, valid, and evidence based. Typically, progress monitoring assessments are given only to students in need of intervention or those who educators think might be in need of intervention. Progress monitoring tools measure age-appropriate outcomes, and different tools may be used to assess different outcome measures (e.g., phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension). Based on these criteria, progress monitoring serves the following purposes:

  • To monitor students' response to Tier I, II, or III instruction to estimate rates of improvement
  • To identify students who are or are not responding adequately to Tier I, II, or III instruction
  • To compare the efficacy of different forms of instruction in order to design more effective, individualized instruction

To get a valid picture of how students are progressing toward targeted literacy goals, practitioners examine a "trend." This refers to how much students are improving over time, regardless of where they started or what their scores were on one individual assessment. Usually, progress monitoring assessments are administered bi-weekly or weekly for students receiving supplemental support (depending on the level of intensity of the intervention and the breadth of the achievement gap). Therefore, the trend is determined by calculating a slope over weeks of progress monitoring assessments. The hope is that the slope will show the score increase over time, as the following example illustrates:

TSLP graphic

(National Center on Response to Intervention, 2012)

In this example, you can see that the vertical (Y) axis represents the range of scores on a specific progress monitoring measure. The scores shown here would match the appropriate range of scores for the measure you are using (e.g., words read correctly). The horizontal (X) axis represents the number of instructional weeks.

Progress monitoring information becomes most helpful when interpreted against a goal line, which is the optimal trajectory for student improvement over time. You and your staff will want to establish criteria for setting individual goals for students. One potential criterion to use is end-of-year grade-level goals, and you can chart student growth over time against those benchmarks. Another option is to chart a goal line based on expected rates of improvement, or norms for student growth (National Center on Response to Intervention, 2012). Many commercially available intervention programs can help create goal lines and chart student growth over time. Regardless of the method, you and your team will need to ensure that staff is evaluating progress monitoring data against specific goals set for student improvement, as you see in the graph below.

TSLP graphic

In this graph, the goal line is the dashed purple line. The student's progress monitoring data is plotted in green, and the yellow trend line is calculated using those data points. The trend line shows the estimated trajectory of progress based on the actual performance on progress monitoring assessments. The slope of the trend line is positive—going up—which shows that the student is indeed making progress in the targeted skill. The slope is not as steep as the goal line, however: the trend line is flatter. This indicates that the student is not making progress as rapidly as desired and may not reach the performance goal within the given time period.

Understanding concepts such as trend, slope, and goal lines is important to getting a valid picture of students' progress in reaching targeted goals for intervention. This practice also allows you to compare different interventions and determine the most effective one based on the improvement trends in each. The decisions based on this analysis will be discussed in more detail in Part 3. You and your team will need to determine the level of staff support needed in understanding these practices and identify key staff to take on leadership roles in ensuring this knowledge is shared. You may review the brief Common Progress Monitoring Graph Omissions: Missing Goal and Goal Line and the RTI Implementer Series, Module 2: Progress Monitoring Training Manual, available on the Center on Response to Intervention site, for further guidance on these topics.

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TO LEARN MORE: There are many sources of information about monitoring students' progress toward targeted literacy goals for students at the elementary school level. Here are some of the best sites for research and resources:

Within the extensive website of the Center for Response to Intervention is a section dedicated to progress monitoring. Online modules and articles, several cited in this lesson, can be accessed from the Featured Resources bar.

A section of the RTI Action Network website is dedicated to progress monitoring and includes various resources and practitioner-focused articles.

The Intervention Central website provides teachers, schools, and districts with free resources to help struggling learners and implement response to intervention. The ChartDog Graph Maker is a tool that allows you to enter progress monitoring data and chart results.

Part 2—Ensuring Reliability and Validity in Progress Monitoring

As you and your team consider ways to optimize your assessment system for progress monitoring, you will need to consider the criteria for validity and reliability. Validity is the degree to which the results of an assessment actually reflect what the test and the interpreters of the test intend to measure. Reliability is a component of validity. A tool is reliable when scores are similar no matter when, where, or by whom it is administered.

As mentioned earlier, the formative progress monitoring assessments that frequently take place in core instruction (e.g., teacher-created assessments, samples of student work, portfolios) are usually informal, meaning that they have not been rigorously tested for validity and reliability. These types of assessments are important and valuable tools in literacy instruction; however, they are not sufficient by themselves in supporting an effective RTI framework. For students with specific instructional needs and those receiving supplemental instruction, practitioners need frequent, reliable, and valid means of measuring students' response to targeted instruction.

Reliability in progress monitoring is critical. Gathering accurate and consistent information is necessary to get a true picture of students' progress at regular intervals. Once a progress monitoring schedule is set at your campus, staff needs to understand the significance of adhering to the schedule for each student. Further, systems need to be in place to ensure that progress monitoring administration is consistent, regardless of who is administering the test, and that staff is well versed in the scoring procedures for the selected progress monitoring probe.

Validity in progress monitoring refers broadly to the degree to which the progress monitoring probe tests what it is supposed to test. Within the framework of RTI, what is assessed is students' response to the targeted instruction they are receiving. When supplemental instruction is aligned to students' specific instructional needs and literacy goals, progress monitoring measures accurately show the ongoing effect of that instruction on student learning. Progress monitoring measures should assess the specific skills that the instruction is targeting (e.g., phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension). This allows practitioners to make the best decisions about students' ongoing needs and adjust the instructional support accordingly.

There are many published tools available for progress monitoring. You and your team may review the measures you have in place or decide to select additional measures. The National Center on Intensive Intervention provides a valuable chart about academic progress monitoring tools, with information about the validity and reliability of numerous published assessments.

Considerations for English learners

Generally speaking, progress monitoring practices that have been shown to be effective for monolingual students are also effective for English language learners. However, there are additional considerations for ensuring validity when progress monitoring students whose first language is not English.

First and foremost, remember that progress monitoring focuses on the response to instruction; to assess English learners in a valid manner, the language of the assessment must match the language of literacy instruction. When looking at instruction in English, differences in growth rates between English learners and monolinguals may not necessarily indicate literacy difficulties but can be associated with the process of second language acquisition. When determining what is and what is not adequate progress for English learners, practitioners need to understand the notion of "true peers." According to Brown and Doolittle (2008), true peers share commonalities across categories of language proficiency levels, levels of previous education, and experiences with acculturation. When evaluating the growth of a particular student or group of students, progress monitoring data should be interpreted with respect to true peers.

For more information on progress monitoring and English learners, you can review RTI for English Language Learners: Appropriately Using Screening and Progress Monitoring Tools to Improve Instructional Outcomes, available on the Center on Response to Intervention site.

Part 3—Using Progress Monitoring Data to Make Instructional Decisions

As with any assessment, the purpose of administration and scoring is to use the data collected to make instructional decisions. The collection and review of progress monitoring data is another important layer in your campus's ongoing data-based decision-making process.

You and your team can use your Assessment Audit to guide your discussion about the instructional decisions made from the progress monitoring assessments administered at your campus. For each instrument, discuss these questions:

  • What are the data from this instrument used for? In other words, what decisions will be made based on this data?
  • Are the criteria for this decision defined?
  • If yes, are the criteria communicated to teachers and other stakeholders?
  • Are the criteria implemented routinely?

You can refer to the third column of the Assessment Audit form for this discussion.

What decisions will be made based on this data?

Unlike screening and diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring is a regular, ongoing practice. The purpose is to help teachers adjust, monitor, and change their instruction on a regular basis to better address students' needs. Formative progress monitoring assessments may inform decisions about students' instructional needs on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. As teachers collect and review formative assessment data such as student work samples or teacher-created tests, teachers may decide to reteach or reinforce concepts for which a significant number of students are struggling. In conjunction with screening data, language proficiency data, and other diagnostic data on students, teachers can use formative progress monitoring data to design and plan small-group instruction, to differentiate instruction based on students' needs, and to monitor the impact of those instructional decisions.

For students who have specific instructional needs or who are receiving intervention instruction, teachers and interventionists will also analyze formal progress monitoring data. The decisions you and your staff may make for these students, based on trends in progress monitoring data, include the following:

  • A decision to adjust intervention instruction. Teachers may reinforce or reteach specific skills, adjust the pace of instruction, and/or ensure greater fidelity to the intervention.
  • A decision to set new instructional goals based on the degree to which students progressed toward previously targeted literacy goals.
  • A decision to change the intensity of an intervention. You may decrease intensity for students showing consistent improvement or increase intensity for students consistently performing below targeted goals.
  • A decision to regroup students to fit instructional need. Based on students' response to instruction, they may be regrouped with students identified with the same targeted needs.

Remember, there needs to be specific criteria in place for determining when and how these decisions are made. Not all options are appropriate at any given point in time, as you will learn in the next section. See the To Learn More section below for a resource that explores interventions and considerations for intensifying intervention.

What criteria will be used for these decisions?

When practitioners review progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions, they don't usually rely on a single score on a single assessment. The goal of progress monitoring is to identify trends in student learning and growth toward literacy goals through analysis of multiple data points. Therefore, it is important that staff understand how to identify trends and know the specific criteria set for when and how decisions about students are made.

You and your leadership team will want to set expectations for reviewing and interpreting progress monitoring data. You may consider the criteria that work best for you and your assessment system based on evidence of best practice. Lesson A2—Identifying students at risk discusses establishing cut scores for identifying students as at risk. As with that process, you can use national norms for literacy progress or establish norms based on your local population. Keep in mind that the latter option requires statistical expertise to analyze and develop these norms using a large student sample size.

The brief Common Progress Monitoring Graph Omissions: Making Instructional Decisions, available from the Center on Response to Intervention, discusses two common methods for analyzing progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions. One of these methods is the Four Point Method, in which teachers examine the most recent four data points after instruction has occurred for at least six data points and then make instructional decisions based on students' progress compared to the goal line. In addition, the brief describes the Trend Line Analysis Method, in which educators examine the trend line after four weeks of instruction have occurred and at least eight data points have been collected.

Regardless of the method, you and your leadership team may want to support a team approach to intervention decisions that includes reading specialists or similarly qualified staff. Many teachers may need help in analyzing their own instruction and identifying accurate progress monitoring trends before determining whether students are responding adequately to a specific intervention.

For example, a reading specialist working with a grade-level team noticed that a student's trend line for fluency was flat. Further testing revealed that the student had gaps in decoding skills. The reading specialist guided the team in setting a short-term goal for decoding, with a very steep goal line. In other words, they planned an intense intervention to help the student close the gap in decoding in just a few weeks. Once this was accomplished, the team created a new goal line for fluency. This goal line represented a new estimate of what the student could achieve now that he had more solid decoding skills. For students with more entrenched skill gaps, especially at higher grade levels, the reading specialist may guide the team to set goal lines that take a longer view at progress, with short interim targets and a longer time period for intervention.

Ensuring collaboration and communication in the decision-making process

One of the challenges that practitioners face in the data-based decision-making process is allocating time and resources for effective communication about students' progress across tiers of instruction. Depending on who provides intervention instruction at your campus, you may need to allocate time for the different providers and classroom teachers to meet and analyze progress monitoring data.

In an effective RTI framework, students' literacy goals are set collaboratively and shared among providers in all tiers of instruction. Based on screening, diagnostics, and other forms of data, practitioners can set grade-level goals, along with group or individual student goals. By looking at the data in teams, classroom teachers and interventionists share a collaborative understanding of what literacy skills they need to target at a grade level (in core Tier I instruction) and at the group and individual student levels (in Tiers II and III instruction). Thus, progress monitoring data is analyzed collaboratively to determine if those goals are being achieved.

Finally, you may need to set up systems for as-needed communication between core teachers and interventionists so that knowledge of how students are progressing is shared on a regular basis. This ensures alignment of instruction across tiers. In the To Learn More section below, you will find some resources that provide guidance in conducting data meetings to analyze progress monitoring data.

To conclude, progress monitoring is an integral component of an effective instructional framework and includes both formal and informal types of assessment. To gain a valid picture of how all students are progressing toward targeted literacy goals, educators need a strong understanding of how to systematically track students' progress and adjust instruction accordingly. When the responsibility of accelerating students' progress toward literacy goals is shared collaboratively across all tiers of instruction, students can have the most success and achieve improved outcomes.

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TO LEARN MORE: Case studies and example scenarios can be helpful in understanding how to implement successful progress monitoring. The following are some resources that provide practical examples from the field for progress monitoring in grades K–5.

Linking Progress Monitoring Results to Interventions,” available on the RTI Action Network site, provides guidance and resources in using progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions. The article provides an in-depth case to illustrate possible courses of action in tracking a student's progress and targeting needs.

The National Center on Student Progress Monitoring, currently operating under the Center on Response to Intervention at American Institutes for Research, provides a number of resources for using progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions:

How Progress Monitoring Assists Decision Making in a Response-to-Instruction Framework,” by Deborah Speece, uses two cases to illustrate how practitioners interpret progress monitoring data to make instructional decisions.

The Grade One Reading Case Study: Decoding and the Grade Four Reading Case Study: Comprehension, both by Devin Kearns, are two detailed case studies that highlight the integral role of progress monitoring in RTI using fictional scenarios that guide you through the framework and provide opportunities to test your understanding.

Designing and Delivering Intensive Interventions: A Teacher's Toolkit, from the Center on Instruction, provides extensive guidance on intervention instruction. See pages 35–55 for considerations for intensifying interventions.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress in using assessment data to identify students at risk for literacy difficulties at your campus, you may want to consider the following next steps:

  • Discuss how progress monitoring data is used to make instructional decisions and how you ensure the validity of the data. You may use the third and fourth columns of the Assessment Audit to think through these issues.
  • Gather and review the administration manuals and procedures for each progress monitoring assessment used at your campus.
  • Determine which staff members have been trained in administering and scoring the various assessments used at your campus.
  • Assess and address staff professional development needs regarding setting goals, analyzing progress monitoring data, and charting growth.
  • Determine procedures for gathering and sharing additional data to support valid decisions for English learners.


A4. Use appropriate assessment data to monitor students' progress toward targeted literacy goals.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step A4 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings K–5

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 for an overview of the process of monitoring students' progress toward targeted literacy goals.
  • Refer to Part 2 for information about reliability and validity in monitoring students' progress within an effective instructional framework.
  • Refer to Part 3 for information about the instructional decisions and criteria for using progress monitoring data to meet students' targeted needs.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Brown, J. E., & Doolittle, J. (2008). A cultural, linguistic, and ecological framework for response to intervention with English language learners. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(5), 67–72.

Chard, D., Harn, B., Sugai, G., Horner, R., Simmons, D. C., & Kame'enui, E. J. (2008). Core features of multi-tiered systems of reading and behavioral support. In C. R. Greenwood, T. R. Kratochwill, & M. Clements (Eds.). Schoolwide prevention models: Lessons learned in elementary schools (pp. 31–58). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

National Center on Response to Intervention. (2012, July). RTI Implementer Series: Module 2: Progress Monitoring–Training Manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention. Retrieved from

Wixson, K. K., & Valencia, S. W. (2011). Assessment in RTI: What teachers and specialists need to know. The Reading Teacher, 64(6), 466–469.