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Student Progress Testing in Math Goes High-Tech

Mizzou Professor Part of $1.5 Million Grant to Develop Curriculum-Based Measurement Tool

Sept. 6, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — As the nation's teachers are continually pushed to show improvements in student outcomes, waiting until the end of the year for progress testing may be a little too late. But now, due in part to a $1.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the research of Erica Lembke, assistant professor of special education at the University of Missouri-Columbia's College of Education, elementary teachers will soon have the ability to monitor student progress by entering data on an electronic handheld device, receiving immediate feedback on student performance.

Partnering with Wireless Generation, an education company known for mobile and Web-based assessment and reporting tools, and Herbert Ginsburg and Young Sun Lee, professors at Teachers College, Columbia University, Lembke will help develop mCLASS: Math. This handheld computer program enables teachers to give quick, one-minute assessments and follow-up diagnostic interviews and see resulting data immediately, creating a picture of student progress. The information can then be transferred to the teachers' computers, making the information immediately available to principals, special educators and parents.

"If your performance is judged on only one high-stakes test, you can see how that might be inadequate. This technology will enable teachers to catch children who are struggling, predict who needs more help and boost performance prior to high stakes testing," said Lembke, who also is a trainer for the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring. "There are so many critical school factors that are tied to assessments, so having a system that teachers can believe in and trust is very important."

Modeled after her similar work with early elementary reading, Lembke has focused her research on Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM), an assessment method that helps teachers gather telling and practical data on student progress. CBM suggests that teachers administer a mini test to students once or twice each week. From the test results, teachers can graph and track student progress. The new handheld program will make CBM easier and less time-consuming for teachers. Lembke and her colleagues will conduct field studies with the new program at school districts in Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

"There is a widespread concern about U.S. children's math performance," said Margaret Honey, senior vice president of research at Wireless Generation. "But we can turn the tide by starting in early school years, and giving teachers the tools and insights into students' learning needed to deliver high quality, effective instruction."

By providing current data on how students are performing, teachers can modify their way of teaching to try to find an approach that will help meet academic goals. Using the IES grant to conduct field studies, Lembke is hopeful that she will be able to develop new CBM methods in other elementary subjects and secondary classrooms.

"We need to keep track of our students' academic performance and progress," Lembke said. "Educators are responsible for ensuring that kids are learning and this is a quick and simple way for teachers to assess and showcase their students' progress."