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

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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