U gets grant to research tracking kids’ learning

Amy Horst

University researchers will use $4.5 million in grant money to develop and improve methods for measuring children’s progress in reading, writing, math and science.

The department of educational psychology and the University’s Institute on Community Integration recently received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

University researcher Teri Wallace and educational psychology professor Christine Espin will head a research center that will focus on improving and developing progress monitoring – a teaching technique created by University professor Stan Deno.

The Minneapolis Public Schools, along with elementary, middle and high schools nationwide use progress monitoring

to track students’ development. The technique can be especially useful to monitor students with disabilities.

In progress monitoring, teachers measure a student’s ability in various subjects over time and chart their progress. From those charts, they can determine whether they need to employ different teaching methods with certain students.

Deno said one way teachers can measure students’ reading ability is to have them read passages from a book for one minute and record how many words they read and over how many words they stumbled.

Deno said progress monitoring can be particularly helpful for special education students because they need frequent monitoring to ensure the education they are receiving helps them.

“It’s analogous to medical problems,” Deno said. “When an individual has a medical problem, it’s important to frequently monitor that problem in order to assure that whatever support is given is actually working.”

Espin, who will head the Research Institute on Progress Monitoring with Wallace, said the institute will differ from previous progress monitoring research. In the past, researchers have studied how progress monitoring affects different groups of schoolchildren, but they have never pooled their research in one place.

“This center is a chance for these people to come together and merge their ideas so there’s one seamless and flexible system that can be used for kids across all ages and with different disabilities,” Espin said.

Brad Johnson, principal of Ericsson Elementary School in Minneapolis, said Minneapolis schools have been on the cutting edge of progress monitoring. For example, he said, students at Minneapolis schools can access their progress records online.

“It gives us more immediate feedback as to where a child is and where they need to be in order to be successful at reading,” Johnson said.

Minneapolis schools also use computer programs to chart and analyze students’ progress, said Doug Marston, special education administrator for Minneapolis Public Schools.

Emily Hoeschen, a College of Education and Human Development senior, said she is not sure progress monitoring works for all students.

“It’s not all the same for every student,” she said. “(Their progress) is going to depend on the type of situation teachers give them.”

The grant money will be distributed over five years.