Accountability, Instructional Planning, and Curriculum-Based Measurement
In the 1990s, accountability for both general and special education may be linked less to procedural compliance and tied more to achievement and instruction -- that is measuring student performance, or the lack thereof, and assigning responsibility to districts, schools, and service providers for improving outcomes. In a related way, research has demonstrated the importance of ongoing measurement systems to describe student progress objectively for determining when and how to adjust instructional programs. This research indicates that frequent measurement on curriculum tasks and responsive use of that information in instructional decision making can enhance teacher planning and student outcomes (e.g., Fuchs, Deno, & Mirkin, 1984; Fuchs, Fuchs, Hamlett, & Stecker, 1991; Jones & Krouse, 1988).
Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM) is one objective, ongoing measurement system designed to account for student outcomes and to enhance instructional planning (Deno, 1985). CBM requires that testing recur frequently over time using a standardized measurement system. Each test is an alternate form representing the year-long curriculum. The assessment information is used to monitor student growth over time and to determine when and how to adjust instructional programs to increase teaching effectiveness.
In establishing this type of ongoing measurement system to facilitate instructional planning and to accomplish accountability, one essential step is to determine standards for how large weekly rates of improvement should be. Standards for weekly rates of improvement guide teachers' judgments about whether a student's current rate of progress is satisfactory or whether an adjustment in the teaching program is warranted. In this way, standards for weekly rates of improvement facilitate formative evaluation of a student's progress toward a satisfactory outcome at the end of the year. Therefore, in developing ongoing measurement systems that are useful for evaluating student outcomes and for designing successful instructional plans, it is critical for school psychologists to have access to information that will permit them to establish these standards.
Despite the importance of appropriate standards for weekly rates of academic growth, relevant normative information based on large samples of general education students currently is not available. Within CBM, available norms do provide information on student levels and range of performance at different grades, by indexing achievement cross-sectionally. Each student is measured on three samples at one point in time (see Shinn, Tindal, & Stein, 1988). This type of normative information is most useful in formulating social comparisons between students to determine when students are eligible for special service. These levels of performance norms also can be used to estimate end-of-year goals, from which weekly rates of improvement can be interpolated (Fuchs & Shinn, 1989). Unfortunately, this method of establishing weekly rates of growth, based on level norms, does not consider a student's beginning of the year performance: All third graders may have year-end reading goals set at the normatively appropriate level of 125 words read correctly per minute (WCPM). However, for a student with a beginning rate of 75 WCPM, this goal would represent an expected weekly increase of 1.67 WCPM ([125-65] + 30