Curriculum Based Assessment/Measurement
[Teacher Tools] [Case Studies

Instructional methodologies that never fail to teach students new skills have not yet been created or designed. However, many effective data-based strategies have been identified in the literature and when used in conjunction with objective and systematic assessment can lead to marked improvements in student performance. Assessment in education is a systematic process of gathering information that will be used to guide decisions related to students. Curriculum-Based Assessment (CBA) refers to models of assessment that emphasize a direct relationship to the student's curriculum. Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM), as developed by Deno (1985) and colleagues uses repeated measures from the student's curriculum to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction and instructional changes to lead to more effective teaching methods and improved student achievement. CBM provides information on how the student's behavior changes on a "generic" task of constant difficulty. Increase in the behavior being measured on equivalent forms of the task should represent academic growth. Deno and Fuchs (1987) suggest that CBM be used in conjunction with a problem solving process that includes:

  1. Identifying the problem to be solved (marked underachievement in reading),
  2. Identifying alternative solutions to the problem (a new reading method),
  3. Implementing (teach/implement new programs) and testing the alternative solutions (assess/evaluate the reading methods),
  4. Revising unsuccessful solutions (continue to make changes in the reading method), and
  5. Terminating the problem-solving process (special education services are discontinued).


A Technically Sound Measurement System:

Critical to the success of this problem solving process is the use of a well-designed objective, empirically supported measurement system. CBM has the characteristics of a technically sound and teacher friendly measurement system. The system is reliable, valid, time efficient, inexpensive, and easy to understand. It requires little training and uses multiple forms for repeated administration. Indicators of student achievement are used to evaluate and graph baseline and intervention data. Practitioners use these data and predetermined data decision rules to decide when to make instructional changes.

Useful Indicators of Student Achievement:

Step three of the problem solving process calls for implementing a proposed solution (a new or modified instructional approach) and testing this approach. To begin, simple and direct measures of achievement must be identified. The research literature on CBM has identified reliable and valid indicators of student achievement in reading, spelling, written expression, mathematics, and content area instruction. Student academic progress is evaluated with the use of these achievement indicators. Teachers probe students' performance on a weekly basis. For example, number of words read correctly in one minute has been identified as a technically adequate indicator of student achievement in reading. Teachers ask students to read aloud for one minute. The number of words read correctly are counted and then graphed. With the data utilization strategies, these weekly data are compared to a goal or previous treatments to determine whether the instructional program is effective in bringing about increases in academic achievement.

Instructional Changes:

Step four in the problem solving process calls for the revision of unsuccessful instructional programs. The performance indicator, for example, reading words read correctly in 1 minute, provides feedback to teachers concerning the effectiveness of the intervention they implemented. If the student's progress is increasing substantially, the assumption is made that the reading intervention is effective. Conversely, if the student's progress is minimal or nonexistent, it is assumed that the reading intervention was not effective and a change may be necessary. When considering what to change in a student's instructional program, it is helpful to be aware of the various characteristics of instruction that can be changed. Slavin's (1984) article "A Theory of School and Classroom Organization" analyzed Carroll's Model of School Learning and proposed a model of effective instruction focusing on alterable elements of instruction. Alterable elements of instruction are those under the direct control of the teacher. These include quality of instruction, appropriate levels of instruction, incentive, and time. Lesson planning documents have been created to be consistent with alterable elements of instruction.

Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Changes

Instructional changes can also be viewed as revolutionary (major modification in the instructional program) change or an evolutionary (minor modification in the instructional program) change.

Evolutionary changes may be made in any of the columns of the instructional plan (i.e. activity, student teacher ratio, time, materials, and motivation). Examples of these types of evolutionary or minor changes for a reading program can be found below.

An example of a revolutionary change could include changing the method of instruction from a language experience approach to direct instruction or large group instruction, to a one-to-one teacher student ratio.

Technically sound and useful achievement indicators are listed below. 


  • Number of words read correctly in one minute
  • Cloze Procedure
  • Maze Procedure (modified Cloze)


  • Number of correct letter sequences in two minutes
  • Number of words spelled correctly in two minutes

Written Expression:

  • Number of words written in two minutes
  • Number of correctly spelled words in two minutes
  • Number of correct word sequences in two minutes


  • Number of correct digits in one minute
  • Number of correct answers in one minute

Indicators of Student Knowledge in Content Area Instruction (Secondary Students):

  • Student-read or administrator-read vocabulary-matching measure

Developed by: David C. Rogers, Ph.D., St. Cloud State University

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