Chances are when you were in school, report cards were the only way to find out how you were doing. Schools now track and report progress differently and more deeply. Public schools use universal screening, progress monitoring and response to intervention (RTI) to measure progress and ensure that each child’s needs are met.
Practices vary between states and schools. If you don’t understand how your child’s school is tracking progress, you’re not alone! Here’s an overview of the most common testing practices at various ages.
Universal Screening and Progress Monitoring
Most schools now use universal screening and progress monitoring as part of their RTI programs. (In general, schools use RTI programs to help children who are struggling academically or socially.)
Universal screening means every student is tested at least once during the school year. Many schools screen students two or three times per year. This helps schools identify which students need extra help. Students who needed extra help are then tested again to track their improvement.
Progress monitoring can be done weekly or only every few months. Whatever framework your school uses, it needs to be systematic and consistent. The school should use the results to shape each child’s curriculum.
The process looks a little different at various grade levels. But the goal is always to identify student needs early and to measure progress often.
Early Elementary: Kindergarten Through Second Grade
Schools usually focus on reading readiness and achievement in the early years. Most schools test often and thoroughly at this age. They may use tools called DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), AIMSWeb, MAP or other tools.
These tests identify key skills of early literacy. Such skills include:
Letter naming (knowing that the letter A is called by the name “A”)
Letter/sound correspondence (knowing that the letter A can sound like the short ă sound, like in mat, and the long ā sound, like in mate)
Sight word reading (the ability to quickly read common words without sounding them out)
Reading comprehension (understanding what’s read)
Fluent oral reading (reading at a good pace, with a smooth feel)
Schools now test math skills in a similar way in the early elementary years. The focus is on memorizing basic addition, subtraction and multiplication facts and understanding basic math concepts.
Middle Elementary: Third Through Fifth Grade
Progress monitoring at this age is often less intense, but it’s a critical time to stay on top of it. In third grade, children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” This means they begin to apply higher-level skills. This is when many kids begin to struggle.
Most statewide testing begins in these grades. Many schools rely heavily on state test scores to identify struggling students.
Reading tests shift to higher-level skills in reading comprehension and vocabulary. Some schools continue to emphasize oral reading fluency, with a focus on speed. You may see reports from school showing how many words per minute your child is reading. If the rate is too slow, your child can get extra support to increase reading speed.
Most screening and monitoring continues to focus on reading. However, math testing has also become popular in recent years. Progress monitoring in math continues to focus on speed in all the basic facts. It may also start to test for understanding fractions and using math reasoning skills.
Many states stop screening and monitoring by mid-elementary school.
Middle School and High School
Most high schools and middle schools measure student success with classroom tests, projects and homework. Report cards are the primary way of reporting student progress.
Your Right to Information
Universal screening and progress monitoring in RTI programs has become more common in the last decade. Even so, practices vary between states, districts, and schools. It’s important to know how your school handles the process.
Unfortunately, the progress reports some schools send parents are hard to understand. If you receive a report on your child’s progress but don’t understand it, ask the school to explain it.
You have the right to ask your child’s school to send you progress-monitoring reports on a regular basis. Knowing those scores will help you stay on top of your child’s progress. That way you can address any concerns that need attention.
When you understand how the school is screening and tracking student progress, you can be a better advocate for your child’s needs.