Coronavirus and Schools: Progress Monitoring during the Pandemic
A nearly universal question we have received recently, from those many of you who are moving forward with “continuity of education” plans consisting of at least some new instruction, is whether you must progress monitor virtual or packet-based special education instruction.
The answer to this question is similar to the answers we have offered to so many others: you should strive to fulfill the FAPE mandate knowing you will fall short in many areas. Must you progress monitor? No, unless you can. If you can progress monitor for some students or for some types of instruction, does that mean you must do it for all? No, do what you can to get as close to FAPE compliance as you can.
Certain types of services and certain goals will lend themselves better to progress monitoring than others, of course. One-on-one instruction and related services, or one-on-one support provided through “virtual office hours” with the teacher or breakout virtual support sessions with an instructional aide will offer better opportunities to administer probes or trials than group virtual instruction will. Oral reading accuracy and fluency probes (with good audio connection), reading comprehension probes, prompt-dependent short writing, math accuracy and fluency probes, and discreet trials of “tacting” and “manding,” for example, might lend themselves to virtual progress monitoring better than would pragmatic language sampling, observation of self-monitoring and replacement behaviors (social skills), or observation of time on task, study and organizational strategies, or similar “executive functioning” skills.
We expect that the virtual learning day will offer far more limited opportunities for meaningful direct instruction than would a full day of school-based instruction. If the choice boils down to whether you dedicate staff time to instruction and support or to progress monitoring, go for the instruction and support.
Some of you have pointed out, quite correctly, that progress monitoring could help you prove after-the-fact that “compensatory education” might not be needed as much or at all for particular students. That sword, of course, is double-edged. The completely novel experience of virtually progress monitoring the results of virtual instruction could produce evidence supporting the need for compensatory services. Still, we have learned that some parent lawyers are suggesting that parents conduct their own progress monitoring during this period of school closure. Perhaps they are doing so to ease the minds of parents who are understandably concerned about whether their children will benefit from virtual instruction, but we suspect an alternative “evidence gathering” motive might also be informing this advice. Assuming (as you should) that parents are more often our allies than our adversaries, you might consider offering brief virtual trainings or resources to parents on how and what to progress monitor. Doing so might enlist parents to support your efforts and might ensure that the information parents gather is more reliable than it might otherwise be.
Either way, our advice remains the same: where you can feasibly and validly progress monitor without compromising the time needed to plan, deliver, and support good instruction, do so. Every step in the direction of meeting the FAPE mandate will help—but you will not be able to take every step.