How Teachers Measure Progress in Special Education

Measuring student educational progress is important in developing and implementing instructional strategies and evaluating program effectiveness for your child with a learning disability. Learn about the most common ways teachers measure student educational progress for special education programs and gain valuable tips that will help you make educational decisions for his special education program.


Observation Is a Helpful Tool to Measure Student Educational Progress

Teacher assisting young female student at computer in school library

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images 

Observations can provide highly accurate, detailed, and verifiable information on student strengths and weaknesses. Observation may be:

  • Systematic, wherein the observer gathers data on one or more precisely defined behaviors;
  • Non-systematic, in which the observer watches the child at school in the setting of concern and takes notes on the behaviors, characteristics, and personal interactions that seem significant; or
  • Standardized, using professionally published systems.

Standardized Rating Scales Measure Progress in a Uniform Way

Rating scales measure positive and problem behavior, attention, the child's independence skills and other areas. This information allows the IEP team to:

  • Determine how strong or weak his skills across settings;
  • Measure progress or lack of progress; and
  • Document performance over time in a reliable, valid manner.

Rating scales are standardized questionnaires completed by teachers, parents, and others familiar with the student. They provide national comparisons as well.


Record Reviews Provide Comprehensive Information to Measure Student Progress

A third method of measuring student progress is the record review. In record review, information can be gathered from school cumulative records, school databases, information from previous schools, medical and mental health data, samples of student work accumulated in portfolios, and anecdotal records. Parents may also choose to provide an important family history for health and social issues.


Criterion Referenced Testing Shows Student Progress in Specific Skill Areas

Criterion-referenced tests measure specific skills a student has learned. They are not designed to provide scores for comparison to peers. Instead, they focus on specific skills within a subject area. In primary level basic math, for example, the ability to recognize connections between numbers and quantities, the addition of single digits, adding a single digit to a double-digit, or other skills would be addressed. These tests provide specific information to teachers to design instruction for students' needs.


Authentic Assessment Measures Progress in Applied Skills

Authentic assessment rates students' performance on real-world tasks. To perform successfully on these tests, students must know the subject area and be able to use that knowledge to perform problem-solving tasks. Activities used in authentic assessments may include:

  • Conducting research;
  • Writing a news article, poem, or short story;
  • revising and discussing papers;
  • Performing an oral presentation based on a project or analysis, and collaborating with others

Standardized Achievement Tests Assess Reading, Math, Writing, and Content Areas

Standardized tests may assess reading, writing, math, and content areas such as social studies and science. They provide information on students' abilities in these areas. The advantage of these tests is that they tell parents and teachers how students are performing compared to others on a state or national level.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Suen HK, Li H. Evaluation of Student Progress in Learning. In: Seel NM, ed. Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Boston: Springer; 2012. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_1367