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Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM): Frequently Asked Questions

curriculum-based-measurement-faqEvery profession has its fair share of jargon and the world of education is no exception. Conversations about educational practice are peppered with acronyms such as IDEA, RTI, MTSS, and CBM, all of which are important, but its not surprising that parents (and others) feel bombarded by unfamiliar terms and have trouble “connecting the dots” and understanding how these terms contribute to the ways that decisions are made to ensure that students with LD are provided the instruction and support they need to be successful in school.

One topic that is of particular interest is Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM). Here are some questions and answers that will help sort out what CBM is all about.

Is CBM the same thing as RTI? CBM is not the same as Response to Intervention (RTI) but they are closely linked. CBM is one approach used by schools to gather information about student progress and to make decisions, based on those findings, about how to adjust instruction. The essential components of any RTI approach are screening, progress monitoring, and providing multi-tiered (or levels) of support. Using CBM, educators conduct frequent screenings to determine how well a student is progressing and when to modify instruction to accelerate their learning.

How does CBM work?CBM begins by having all students take an assessment of sorts (say, in reading) and the results of this screening allows the school to determine a “benchmark” or “standard” that serves as a point of reference for all students in the school. This helps teachers know how well particular students are doing compared to all other students across all grades, other students in particular grades, and other individual students. After instruction takes place, teachers administer short tests (or “probes”) that, when scored, can easily be charted so students, parents, and teachers can all follow a child’s progress (or lack of progress) over a short period of time. As soon as a student’s progress seems to be flattening out or declining, changes in instruction and extra help can be provided. The benefit of CBM is obvious: everyone is looking at the same progress monitoring data, concerns are identified quickly (avoiding long periods of frustration and circumventing feelings of failure), and the help provided is very specific and targeted to skill and behaviors that were shown to be lagging.
What other approaches are used to help make teaching decisions and guide student learning?  Other than CBM (sometimes called a “standard protocol approach”), the most commonly used Response to Intervention approach is referred to as a “problem-solving” approach.  Problem-solving approaches also use school-wide (or “universal”) screening, activities, offer needed help as early as possible, and make decisions based on student progress data. These two approaches are more similar than they are different, but the main difference between these two approaches is in how decisions about what to teach are made. In the “problem-solving” approach, members of a team make decisions about which interventions to use that address a student’s needs. In the “standard treatment protocol” approach, a particular, pre-determined intervention is used, one that was designed (and proven to be effective) for students with similar difficulties. The intervention is presented in a “standardized” format (making sure that every child receives that type of help in the same, precise way. (This makes it possible to say that it was the intervention that actually did/did not help.) 

Does CBM have anything to do with IEPs or 504 plans?The answer is yes, no, maybe. Students who have been identified as having LD or who qualify for services under other special education classifications can (and do) benefit from CBM practices in school. The same applies to students who have 504 plans. CBM is about good teaching, timely and effective instructional decision-making, and monitoring students progress over time, intervening with special help as soon as trouble arises. CBM is good for all students because it offers immediate feedback about when learning is not progressing as expected. Teachers can then take a closer look (using other types of assessments, interviews and observations, and diagnostic teaching) to see what might be interfering with progress.

It’s important for parents to make sure they talk with the teacher about the instructional approach being used in school, especially for those who have struggling students, or a child who has been identified with a learning disability. An informed parent can be a powerful partner in making sure a child is “on track” for learning.