How is Progress Monitoring Used at Lawrence?

In our last blog post, Mr. Musolf introduced the idea of Progress Monitoring by using a clear and simple road trip analogy. In this entry, he goes on to explain how it is implemented at Lawrence Lower School.

Formative Progress Monitoring at Lawrence Lower School – utilizing the Aimsweb System through Pearson – has been designed to capture students’ growth with academic fluency.  Each student receives monitoring with their fluency skills in reading, math facts, and writing.

Please note, there are many other ways we monitor academic growth, including daily teacher observation; in-class assignments; reviews; mastered homework; mid-year reports; end-year reports; and as mentioned in the previous blog, summative Woodcock Johnson Achievement testing.

Progress monitoring simply captures one aspect of a student’s academic profile – fluency.

Fluency can be measured by evaluating how fast a student can perform a task. A student’s speed increases gradually as skill, accuracy, and proficiency improves with a task. It can be measured over time and improvement in rate can be interpreted as progress. Essentially, fluency measures how “easy” something can be done. It frees up cognitive energy to perform the more difficult tasks.


For example, if a student spends considerable mental energy decoding when reading, their comprehension is likely to be impacted. Similarly, if a student spends a lot of time trying to remember basic math facts, there may be confusion or simple errors when trying to apply math in story problems or real world contexts. Lastly, if a student is mechanically slow to get their thoughts down on paper, they may lose their idea and not be able to communicate as well in writing.

Here is a simple description of the three areas (reading, math, writing) we monitor progress for at Lawrence:

  • Reading fluency is simply the number of words read correctly within a minute from a passage. This is measured weekly for those students who need it.
  • Math fluency is simply the number of basic math facts in a specific computation area (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) a student can correctly perform in two minutes. This is measured weekly for ALL students.
  • Writing fluency measures the total number of words written as well as how often a student can pair two words consecutively that convey meaning and are spelled correctly. The students are given a writing prompt, 60 seconds to brainstorm, and three minutes to write. This is measured biweekly for ALL students.

Overall, for most of the students, progress is captured by improvement in fluency performance and/or accuracy. It is only one piece of many that captures how well a son or daughter is performing at Lawrence.

This process helps us answer some important academic questions. Is a child progressing? If so, how quickly? Are they benefiting from Lawrence techniques? Are they heading in the right direction?

Evaluation requires a bit of courage. Afterall, what if the results are not favorable? This prompts more difficult questions like “What are we doing that is not working?” or “What do we need to do differently?”

But remember, it is of great benefit to answer those difficult questions in the middle of a school year, so we have time to tweak what needs to be done. Our goal is just like our parents’ goal: To help each one of our students reach their fullest potential.

And that is a trip worth taking!



Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at

What is Progress Monitoring?

Let’s say you were taking a road trip from Seattle to New York and only had one week to complete it. Once started, you might begin to wonder “Am I heading in the right direction?” “Am I making good time?” “Will I even end up in New York?” To answer those questions, you will need to evaluate your progress.

There are mainly two forms of evaluation – summative and formative.

Summative evaluation occurs at the end, after a task is finished. It helps answer the question of “Did we get where we wanted to go?” In the trip example above, it would be the equivalent of driving without using any navigation tools – no GPS, no map, no road signs. After a week, you would simply get out of the car and ask someone, “Where am I?”

Altwherearewegoinghough a summative evaluation is helpful, it doesn’t always allow for a timely readjusting of plans. It answers the question of whether or not you arrived in New York (and if not, how close you were), but if the answer was “No,” it doesn’t allow for rerouting. Because the evaluation occurred at the end of the week, driving adjustments are no longer possible.

At Lawrence Lower School, we use the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement, Fourth edition (WJ-IV) as a summative evaluation. At the end of the year, each Lower School student takes the WJ-IV. Results are compiled, given to parents, and help answer the question “Where did we end up?” academically.  It’s good information, but what if the results are not as positive and significant growth was not made? Since it is given at the end of the year, there is no time to make curriculum adjustments.

That is where Progress Monitoring comes into play. Progress Monitoring is a formative evaluation. Formative evaluation helps answer the questions: “Are we heading in the right direction?” and “Are we going at the right speed?”

It is an ongoing assessment.

Using our earlier analogy, it would be like making the same trip from Seattle to New York – only this time, using a GPS system. You would check the GPS regularly and make sure you’re on the right road and that your “estimated time of arrival” is still on track. The benefit of formative evaluation is that it offers feedback in a timely way that allows modification to the plan and adjustments to the route.

If your GPS indicated you were not on the right road or that your arrival time was off, you could reroute or speed up as necessary. In education terms, this means modifying instruction in a way that more efficiently benefits the student’s learning.

This certainly only captures the “big picture” uses of Progress Monitoring, but hopefully the analogy makes that picture a bit more clear. In my next blog, I’ll explain in greater detail how we use progress monitoring at the Lower School. In addition to the quantitative aspects of Progress Monitoring, there are qualitative aspects as well. It helps to develop a profile of an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, what academic areas are mastered, which are still more challenging, what error patterns are evident, etc.

So get out your GPS systems, fasten your seatbelts, and let’s enjoy the scenery as we make our long distance academic road trip together.



Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at

Want to Learn More About Your Child’s School Day? Say ‘High-Low-High’!


Asking your child about their day at school and getting more than a one-word response can be difficult.

I confess, I was a pro at the monosyllable answer when my mom used to ask me how my school day went. Common responses included: “Fine”, “Good”, “Eh”, and the classic – “Kay.”

Even though “Bad” is only one syllable, I didn’t dare offer that as an answer, as I learned it triggered further probing questions as to what specifically went bad and why. It was certainly much safer to vary responses daily with the repertoire listed above.

And I apparently passed this “skill” down to my own children, as prying information from them about their day required tools like crowbars and vice grips! I say required because things have actually improved due to a solution I have found to work reasonably well.

My kids and I call it the “High-Low-High”.

“High-Low-High” structures responses to require one highpoint of the day, one low point, and then another highpoint as a finale. It isn’t foolproof, but does help get the conversation started.

I have three kids – a junior in high school, and a set of 8th grade, boy/girl twins. Rather than asking how their day was, I ask each individually, in turn, to “High-Low-High me.” In fact, my kids will “High-Low-High” me regularly now as well.

This technique has led to the sharing of more details than a “Kay” response has ever given. It has also been effective in prompting conversation on days when there aren’t obvious highs or lows – some days are simply more even keeled. But even those days have some simple moments in them that are better than others, and there certainly is some mental health in appreciating the little things in life.

I have also discovered a side benefit to this technique.

There have been moments in my kids’ lives where they have struggled to navigate the social minefield that middle school, high school and even sometimes elementary school presented. Once I learned they were having difficulties with someone, I would ask them each day how things went regarding that particular individual.

However, after some time I finally realized that by doing this, I was inadvertently asking them to focus only on these negative interactions. Since that was all I was asking about, that was all they were sharing. But the “High-Low-High” technique helps maintain a proper balance of what our children emphasize each day.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I didn’t invent this tactic and if I could recall the origin, I would most certainly give credit where it is due. But I share it with hope that it may help some of you who are stuck with monotone, monosyllabic dialog with your kids.




Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at

There are 1,000 Reasons To Give

There are 1,000 reasons to give to Lawrence School. Each gift – no matter how big or small – makes a difference in the lives of our students and community in so many ways.

This video captures some of the meaningful ways your gifts impact our school and the individuals who bring it to life. Please don’t forget to add Lawrence School to your holiday giving list on #GivingTuesday (Dec. 1) and throughout the holiday season!

To make a gift online and help us reimagine school, simply visit

Social Media Presents Added Accessibility for Teens, New Challenges For Parents


In this digital age, it is easier than ever for adolescents to connect and make plans with friends.

A recent Edudemic article about online activity among adolescents indicates that 95 percent of teens use the Internet, 81 percent use social media and 50 percent log into social media multiple times per day. Thanks to the advances in technology, a friend or activity is now just a click, comment or direct message away.

But with this added convenience, comes additional risk. As parents and educators, there is concern that children may misuse their social media access by connecting with strangers with suspect motives or creating an adverse environment at school or in a community with inappropriate or hurtful comments and photos.

Social media presents unique and difficult situations for a community. Given its risks and benefits, how do you find a balance between allowing your child the freedom to use social media and other online tools, while also ensuring their well-being and appropriate behavior?

Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Ask your child about his or her social media use and discuss the dangers and consequences associated with it. Many children simply don’t realize how easily accessible their information is and what harm can be done with it. Talk about how photos they post or comments they make can impact their future. Ask if they have been treated disrespectfully or bullied on social media and make it clear that they can come to you with questions or help. If there are concerns that need to be addressed at school, let administrators know.
  • Monitor your child’s use of social media periodically by reviewing a snapshot of what your child is posting online. This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive review – just check a few comments and/or postings on a few different sites. Kids with nothing to hide will usually let you check without too much of an argument. If your child is secretive about what they post online or resistant to letting you check, consider that cause for additional review and concern.
  • Learn all you can about the various forms of social media, as well as their risks and benefits. The better informed you are, the easier it will be to initiate important dialogue with your child. Here are some of the most popular social networks available: FacebookTwitter,  InstagramSnapchatVineYouTubeTumblr.
  • Share what you learn with other parents and with your child’s school, whenever necessary. The collaboration and open dialogue will benefit everyone.

Hats off to all parents who manage to walk the tightrope of maintaining boundaries for their child while still allowing them the freedom to explore the social media landscape. Parenting in today’s world is no easy task. If we can help you in your parenting journey, don’t hesitate to ask!

Culp-JasonJason Culp is the Head of Upper School at Lawrence. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University.  Jason is licensed as a Professional Counselor (PC) with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. He welcomes your comments at

Speaking with your child about the Paris attacks

A timely and helpful blog post by our former Academic Dean, Ryan Masa. Ryan is now the K-8 Principal at Assets School, a school for gifted and dyslexic children in Honolulu.

Assets School K-8 Principal Blog

The appalling attacks that occurred Friday in Paris leave all of us shaken and heartbroken.  As we mourn for the victims and their families, along with the citizens of France, we also search for how best to help our children process the tragedy and the media blitz that follows.  I’ve found guidance from several source and have tried to summarize the takeaways most meaningful to me.  

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How Do You Know Which Tech Tool Is Right For Your Learner?

techTechnology is evolving and growing at a startling pace in our society. New devices and game-changing software are developed and launched quickly.

This has led to a boom in assistive technology tools for students and adults who learn differently. But with the sea of services, software and devices available, sometimes it feels like you need an advanced degree in computer science just to find the right tool!

Jackie Hersh

Jackie Hersh, Director of Assistive Technology and Learning Support

At Lawrence School, we are fortunate to have a team of dedicated, talented and enthusiastic technology experts on staff. Jackie Hersh, our Director of Assistive Technology and Learning Support, offered the following tips to help parents navigate these seemingly murky waters:

  • Consider your student first. Understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses is the most important consideration when determining which assistive technology tool to implement. For instance, if you have a child who struggles using a touch pad, you may want to consider a touch screen or a mouse. Likewise, a student who struggles with reading but has strong listening skills may benefit from the use of audio books or a text-to-speech app.
  • Understand the environment where the device will be used. Some environments will impact the use of the device. Consider whether your student will have access to Wi-Fi at school, which is required for some programs and apps. Speech-to-text software is an excellent tool, however in a class of 30 students its benefits would be very limited. Additionally, if personal devices are not allowed, bringing your iPad loaded with the best programs would be pointless.
  • Keep the task in mind. It’s easy to get excited about a shiny new tool, but your child’s academic task or need must come first. One way to keep the task at the forefront is to use the teacher’s directions and expectations as a guide. IEP objectives are also a great starting point for identifying tasks.


  • The timing of learning a new tool is just as important. Learning a new tool can be stressful. Starting a new implementation process right before midterms or other stressful times in your child’s life will only add to their anxiety. At the same time, I don’t recommend starting this process right before a holiday break as there will be few opportunities for immediate application.
  • Training is key! Training is crucial in the implementation of any tool as it allows us to learn how we can best use it to achieve our goal. Training also includes troubleshooting tips and follow-up to make sure things are running smoothly. Training supports for parents are important so they can help their child when they are struggling.

Do you have specific questions about your device or want to learn more about the assistive technology tools used and endorsed at Lawrence School? Join us at the Upper School tonight (Nov. 11) from 7-8:30 p.m., as our expert tech staff presents, Assistive Technology Tools for School and Work. This free session will feature plenty of time for Q&A and hands-on demonstrations. Register online here.

Early Intervention Key to Positive Outcomes for Children with Learning Differences

kindergarten2Jane D. Hull once wrote, “at the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”

This sage advice does not differ when applied to the parent of a child with learning differences. The positive involvement of one or both parents can determine the difference between success and failure for the child who struggles to learn. And the earlier the positive involvement begins, the better for all concerned.

Research in the field of learning differences is clear – early intervention is the key to long-term positive outcomes.

kindergarten3The sooner a child with learning challenges is evaluated, diagnosed and begins to receive supportive intervention and accommodation, the lesser the overall negative effect of the learning difference. In many years of work in the field of learning differences, there has never been an occasion where a parent discussed regretting early intervention. In many, many cases, however, there is great parental regret over having waiting too long to begin the evaluation, diagnosis and intervention process.

The longer a child must wait for intervention, the easier it is for the seeds of doubt to take root. The child may begin to believe that the learning difference forms the basis of their identity, and that school failure is to be expected. Effective early intervention services can prevent such harmful seeds from ever finding fertile ground in which to grow.

According to LD Online, symptoms of learning differences in preschool through grade 4 include:


  • Speaks later than most children
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, often unable to find the right word
  • Difficulty rhyming words
  • Trouble learning numbers, alphabet, days of the week, colors, shapes
  • Extremely restless and easily distracted
  • Trouble interacting with peers
  • Difficulty following directions or routines
  • Fine motor skills slow to develop

Grades K-4

  • Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confuses basic words
  • Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
  • Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs
  • Slow to remember facts
  • Slow to learn new skills, relies heavily on memorization
  • Impulsive, difficulty planning
  • Unstable pencil grip
  • Trouble learning about time
  • Poor coordination, unaware of physical surroundings, prone to accidents

While this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, it is a guide that parents can use to determine if their child might be in need of additional support in the classroom, or a full assessment for the presence of a learning difference.

Once the need for early intervention has been determined, the next most important step is for parents to ensure that their child is placed in the most supportive, enriching educational environment possible. Assessing the right fit for the child with a learning challenge requires exhaustive research, interviews with school personnel and possession of the right documentation to ensure access to all applicable learning supports.

summerThe longer a student with a learning difference languishes in an unsupportive environment with people who do not thoroughly understand the challenges the child faces, the more likely the student is to suffer negative school and life outcomes.

Conversely, students who are educated in an environment where learning differences are understood, and even celebrated, can look forward to far greater success in school and in life. The simple process of experiencing academic and social success in school, despite a learning challenge, lays the groundwork for a positive mindset.

As a result, the child realizes he can succeed with the learning difference, not in spite of it. This understanding helps guide the child toward a future of unlimited potential.

Head of Upper School

Jason Culp, Head of Upper School

Jason Culp has been the Head of Upper School at Lawrence since 2010 and a member of the Lawrence School community since 2002. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baldwin-Wallace College and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University.  Jason is licensed as a Professional Counselor (PC) with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board.

Lower School Students Display Creativity, Compassion Through Project Based Learning

IMG_0698How would you design a classroom to help a student from another country feel comfortable and support their learning? Children from Mrs. Erdelyi’s Lower School language arts class recently explored this question as part of a Project Based Learning lesson that began with a simple reading exercise.

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.

“My class has been reading a book called, Dear Whiskers,” Mrs. Erdelyi explained. “One of the characters in the book is a little girl from Saudi Arabia, who does not speak or write English very well. This led to great discussions about what it would be like to come into a classroom where not only did you not know anyone, but you could not understand anyone and they could not understand you.”

IMG_0662This exploratory path sparked another discussion: What is an immigrant? How do they come to our country? Why do they come to our country? Where are they coming from? Intrigued, the children decided to dig deeper.

After reading a couple of fictional books written about the topic – My Name is Yoon and The Name Jar – they envisioned a real-life scenario of a child coming to Lawrence School from a different country with no understanding of our language. What kind of classroom would they like to create to make the new student feel welcome and help them learn?

The students then broke into small groups to come up with a list of items they wanted to include that ranged from practical (clocks, alphabet strips, number lines and even a snack table) to – not surprisingly, if you know Lawrence students – creative and thoughtful.

For instance, each group clearly labeled objects in the room to help the non-native speaker begin to recognize words. There was also discussion about how the desks should be arranged so the new student wouldn’t feel isolated when they sat down. It was important to the children that the student feel like a part of the group so they would be comfortable asking questions.

IMG_0684Nearly every group included a technology station for the new student to use. This area included Smartboards, computers and an iPad. One group even added a few objects for the student to touch and hold as they learned about a subject.

The final stage was to actually bring all these ideas to life by constructing a model of their classrooms from scratch, using shoe boxes, cardboard, yarn, markers and more. The children were so engrossed in this phase that there were audible groans at the end of the period each day.

“The goal of Project Based Learning is to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation,” said Lawrence Literacy Coach Amy Erich. “Specifically for students with learning differences, this style is beneficial because they must use all modalities in the process of researching and solving a problem. This multi-sensory aspect makes the project engaging and fun because students have a meaningful way to apply their skills immediately.”

In addition to watching all the creative concepts come to life, we were so proud to see the effective team building, long-term project planning and goal setting displayed by our students!

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“Drop The Rope!” A Simple Expression To Help Students Defuse Disputes

One of the more popular Field Day events throughout the years at the Lower School has been tug of war.

Those who embrace the spirit of competition look forward to showcasing their strength against another team. One must mentally prepare for the pull from the other side, ready to match and exceed it once the “Go!” command is shouted.


And then the tug begins – one side straining, pulling against the other. When the contest is close, you will often see the middle marker flag dance back and forth as each side creates an advantage.

But there is another “tug of war” that occurs on every playground that isn’t much fun. In fact, you can also see it in classrooms, in the hallways and perhaps even at home from time to time. Rather than the physical competition we see on Field Day, this tug of war manifests in the form of the verbal disagreements.

They may sound something like this:

“Yes, you did!”

“No, I didn’t!”

“YES, YOU did!”

“NO, I did NOT!”

This endless disagreement only continues because of the back-and-forth – or one side pulling against the other – nature of bickering. It seems to be human nature that when someone “tugs” on you, your first reaction is to “tug” back. And so it is with verbal disagreements.

So what can we do as educators, administrators and parents? At Lawrence, we encourage our Lower School students to “Drop The Rope” – a concept that was introduced at a recent morning assembly.

Picture a tug of war between two people with each side straining to gain an advantage. This alternating battle can continue for quite some time and only ends when someone finally gives up, exhausted from the fight. But even then, nothing has been resolved. More likely, both sides are left feeling hurt and those wounds take time to heal.

However, imagine what would happen if one side – rather than pull harder in the opposite direction – simply dropped the rope. The rope would fall to the ground and the other side would have nothing to pull against – the battle is over.

Although this doesn’t immediately resolve the initial conflict, it is effective in ending the disagreement. Only then, can subsequent steps be taken if necessary, such as getting other versions of the story, sharing perspectives, finding common ground, etc.

Lawrence staff and students have adopted this simple phrase as a clear directive to stop arguing. Each student also knows it is up to them to be the first to drop the rope and it’s not uncommon to hear them suggest to each other when it is an appropriate time to do so.

So don’t be surprised if your son or daughter uses this strategy at home. At least now, you’ll know what it means!


Bill Musolf joined Lawrence in June 2007 as the Dean of Students at the Lower School campus. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a school psychologist and elementary guidance counselor. Bill received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The Ohio State University, and completed both his master’s and Education Specialist degrees at Michigan State University. He can be contacted at