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Curriculum-based measurement (CBM): Student assessment

Stan Deno, professor of educational psychology, developed curriculum-based measurement (CBM) in the late 1970s with the goal of giving teachers of children with learning disabilities a simple set of evaluation procedures that would allow them to literally graph a child's academic progress.

Deno and a team of graduate students began by looking for tasks that could serve as simple measures of student improvement. Tasks such as reading aloud were tested extensively with children with and without disabilities to make sure they provided consistent and comparable results with other forms of measurement and over time.

In 1985 the Pine County Special Education Cooperative in Minnesota began field-testing CBM. This research and testing showed CBM to be among the most reliable tools for accurate measurement and evaluation of academic progress, both to compare students to one another and to chart individual student progress. Deno's 1986 article about CBM in School Psychology Review is referred to in the field as "seminal." CBM enjoys support from the U.S. Department of Education and has been the measurement and assessment tool of choice in numerous federally funded studies.

How CBM works

In CBM a child performs a set of skills within a specific time frame, usually five minutes. In reading, for example, the tester counts how many words the child reads out loud in a certain time frame and marks the words the child didn't know or hesitated over. It's a simple, direct, and quick process that can be administered without interrupting the classroom routine. It is flexible and reliable in showing where progress is and isn't happening, allowing teachers to intervene more effectively to make sure every child is getting what he or she needs to succeed. Progress is charted, making it easy for children and their parents to see improvement through a visual record.

CBM's ripple effect

CBM has spread into use around the country and abroad, been applied to other subject areas and other age groups, and used to evaluate children of all ability levels. Colleagues at other institutions have built variations on CBM, such as the computer-based application devised by Lynn Fuchs at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Christine Espin, a professor in Deno's department, is adapting CBM for use at the high school level and Scott McConnell, another educational psychology professor in the college, is working to adapt CBM for use with preschool-aged children.

CBM is being used in the St. Paul, Minn., school district to evaluate the effectiveness of a computer-based teaching method. Los Angeles, Calif., schools are using it to check the effectiveness of a new reading approach. Iowa districts are using it as part of the state's overall accountability program. Minneapolis and St. Cloud schools in Minnesota also use it for specific academic evaluations.

What others say about CBM

Kim Gibbons, director of special education for the St. Croix River Education District, is a Minnesota native who studied CBM in her doctoral program at the University of Oregon only to come home and find that its originator worked "just down the road."

"I was just thrilled with the opportunity to work with Stan," Gibbons says. "CBM really has been one of the few tools I can say has really made a difference in special education and to education in general.

"This work is profound in its implications for education on any level. It allows us to respond more quickly to help children having problems. And it's so inexpensive in terms of time required. It's efficient, relevant, and easy to understand. We use it in all six of our districts to chart student progress. We're also using it in correlation with the Basic Skills tests. It is extremely reliable in helping us to intervene early enough with students to make a real difference in their test outcomes."

Jeff Grimes, coordinator of innovation of best practices with the Heartland Area Education Agency of the Iowa Department of Education, says CBM is "fundamental to the way this agency approaches assessment. Stan's thinking has affected not just our practice but also our perception about how we measure progress. CBM is the best means of doing direct and frequent progress monitoring."

Cecil Mercer, Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Florida, says he has used Deno's research in CBM "extensively in my writing and in consulting with school districts.

"His work has been a foundation piece for helping assessment teams in schools throughout the nation develop reliable and valid curriculum-based measurements," Mercer says. "For example, several school districts in Florida use these curriculum-based measurements extensively to monitor students' progress in reading and math and report this progress to parents and individual-education-plan (IEP) committees.

"Deno's work in CBM came at a critical time because of weaknesses in standardized tests and the need for simple, reliable, and valid measures to track students' progress in academic areas. His scholarly and practical research has been very important to teachers and students throughout the nation."

Why this research matters

CBM offers an easy and reliable tool for measuring student progress in a way that allows early intervention and assessment of intervention effectiveness. Students are motivated by CBM's easy-to-understand graphic charts showing their progress. Parents have a clear, uncomplicated report that brings them into full partnership with teachers in helping their children reach their academic goals.

August 2001
updated October 2005

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