Today's educational environment is vastly different from those of your parents and grandparents. Educational settings have transformed from brick and mortar to blended learning opportunities to cyber classrooms.

The 21st-century student has challenged teachers to re-examine their teaching styles and methods of delivery. The challenge of meeting the needs of the 21st-century student and accountability standards mandated by federal and state regulations has pressured teachers to create new techniques to ensure student growth.

The ability to measure this growth is imperative for teachers in refining or creating new techniques. Measuring growth and student learning over time is commonly referred to as progress monitoring.

Research on progress monitoring has shown that if a teacher properly implements a method of monitoring a student's learning, his or her learning will increase.

In a 2002 report co-authored by Lynn S. Fuchs and Douglas Fuchs — and authorized by the National Center on Student Progress Monitoring and The Office of Special Education Programs (ED/OSERS) when teachers use systematic progress monitoring to track their students' progress in reading, mathematics or spelling, they are better able to identify students in need of additional or different forms of instruction. Teachers can then design stronger instructional programs and their students will achieve better.

The website Wrightslaw.com agrees by listing the following statement: "Progress monitoring is a scientifically based practice used to access a child's academic progress and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring tells the teacher what a child has learned and what still needs to be taught."

Many methods of progress monitoring exist some examples are charts, graphs and short-cycle assessments. But progress monitoring differs from chapter or unit tests. Effective progress monitoring allows teachers to measure whether a student has mastered a skill and whether the student is progressing at an acceptable pace to meet their goals for the school year.

According to Nancy Safer and Steve Fleischman, by regularly measuring all skills to be learned, teachers can graph changes in the number of correct words per minute (reading) or correct digits (math) and compare a student's progress to the rate of improvement needed to meet end-of-year goals. If the rate of a student's progress is insufficient, the teacher has the data available to alter their instruction to increase the student's academic growth.

As teachers implement progress monitoring, they must take great care to choose the most efficient and accessible tool that meets the needs of the student and accurately represent the overall student proficiency in the curriculum. Measures must be sensitive to student change.

Increased scores should indicate that the student is improving as a reader. Likewise, scores that remain static or begin to decrease should indicate that the student's reading skills have changed little over time, or that the student has started to regress. Using the wrong measurement tool will not only provide the teacher with inaccurate data, but also damage the student’s self-esteem and attitude toward educational growth.

Effective communication with parents and students is critical for successful progress monitoring. Many teachers chart a student's results on a graph as a way of showing the success of the student. The graph is shared at regular intervals with the student and/or parent.

When creating annual goals for the student and implementing progress monitoring, teachers must explain to the student that they are measuring how the student is progressing toward an annual goal. If the student excels at one point, and then digresses at another, this is OK as long as they student meets the goal at the end of the year.

It is vital to not only the student, but also a teacher's planning that each student understands the goals set for them are annual goals and that achievement throughout the year may fluctuate.

As mentioned previously, today's educational environment is dramatically different from that of our parents and grandparents, but the need to monitor student progress has not changed. Students will excel if teachers monitor student learning and their progression on predetermined goals.

According to Susan K. Etscheidt, through analysis of progress monitoring data in relation to pre-established annual goals and learning objectives, school staff can assert that a learner has attained a meaningful educational benefit from instruction. Students make significantly higher educational gains when teachers plan instruction or intervention based on a student's current levels of performance and projected progress.

The ability to measure student growth is imperative for teachers and the success of the 21st-century student.