CBM3D: Using CBMs for Quick Assessment of Progress in English Language Development

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By Rita Platt & John Wolfe

Today in almost every elementary school in America, teachers are required (or at least highly encouraged) to use curriculum based measures (CBMs) at least three times a year. The CBM most commonly used in literacy is an oral reading fluency probe (ORF.) Whether the passage comes from DIBELS, AIMSweb, FAST, EasyCBM, or another source, the idea is pretty much the same.

  1. Give a student a copy of the grade-level passage. 

    CBMs are problematic for English learners.

  2. Time the student for one minute as s/he reads aloud.
  3. Mark the student’s errors on the teacher’s copy of the passage.
  4. Count total word correct to get a CWPM (correct words per minute) score.

The results of the ORF are commonly used to gauge student growth in reading and to act as screener to identify readers who might need extra assistance. The assumption is that ORF scores can be used as a proxy for reading competence.

But, CBMs can be problematic for English learners (ELs) for several reasons.

  1. The reading levels are often way above ELs’ actual reading ability.
  2. The assessment is focused on fluency over comprehension (see CBMs with a Twist: Reading is More Than Speed).
  3. There are no visual supports offered to students.
  4. The assessment situation does not allow for prior knowledge to be built or activated.
  5. They assess only one domain, reading.
  6. They can lead to discouragement and decreased motivation given how challenging they can be for many ELs.

All of this aside, there is value in frequent, short assessments. Working teachers of ELs want up-to-date data about the progress their students are making in English language development (ELD). They understand the data-informed continuouscip improvement model (see right). They want ESL-specific data to  show classroom teachers, parents, administrators, and students that ELs are making progress. They cannot wait for the results of yearly ESL tests to get that data.

This is where CBM3D comes in. Curriculum Based Measures in 3 Domains is a simple tweak that allows teachers to get multiple data points to monitor student ELD growth in three language domains: reading, writing, and speaking.


Preparing CBM3D

1.Begin by ascertaining the actual reading levels of your ELs (not grade level.) For example,picture1 a 6th grade student might be reading at the 2nd grade level.

2. Choose a set of CBMs to use (there are several free versions shared above.) Download and print the teacher and student forms for a passage at the student’s actual reading level.

3. Develop a picture support for the passage. It can be simple and made using Google Images or by hand-drawing. See the sample at left.

4. Administer the assessment. See directions below.


Administering CBM3D

Begin by telling the student that they will be spending the next 10 minutes or so reading, thinking, and talking about a short passage they will read. Assure them that you will be there to help them and that you are excited to see their growth. Then, follow these steps:

1. Show the student the picture support you developed. Allow the student to look at it for as long as s/he likes and to talk about what s/he thinks the passage will be about based on the pictures. Allow the student to keep the picture support throughout the assessment.

2. Ask the student to read the passage aloud for one minute. Tell her/him not to worry about finishing it in one minute, s/he can take all the time s/he needs to finish when the minute is up.

3. As the student reads, mark the teacher’s copy, noting strategies used, strengths, possible needs, and words read incorrectly.

4. At the end of one minute, allow the student to finish the passage, saying, “Please finish the passage. Read it carefully, I am going to ask you to talk and write about it when you’re done.

5. While the student finished the passage, determine the number of words read correctly in one minute.*

6. Once the student finishes, ask her or him to orally retell the story. As they are retelling, listen and prompt the student to tell more if needed. While the studentretell rubric retells score them on two rubrics. One rubric for overall reading comprehension (see example at right and linked here.) The second rubric to help you get information about the student’s ELD in the domain of speaking. Look here for sample speaking rubrics.  (Using two rubrics at once can get tricky. It might be helpful to digitally record the retell so it can be listened to twice. The recording itself can also be used as an artifact to monitor and celebrate student progress.)

7. After the oral retell, ask the student to do a written retell as well. When the student is done writing, score their work on your school’s writing rubric or any other. Sample writing rubrics can be found here.

Using the Results of CBM3D

Once completed, the teacher has four data points in three domains. Reading (ORF CWPM and basic comprehension), speaking, and writing. That data can be used in myriad ways. From working with students to set goals to sharing growth with PLCs and administrators, to helping teachers plan for further instruction, the data is fresh and valuable.

CBM3D allows teachers of ELs to collect multiple data points to help get a more rounded picture of progress. Does it take more time than a traditional CBM or relying on yearly high-stakes tests? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

*This will NOT provide information about the student’s oral reading rate as compared to peers because CMB3D does not use grade-level passages. It will, however, give the teacher and the student a baseline that can be used to monitor for growth overtime. This is critical for students who sometimes have a hard time seeing their own progress and success. It is also a possible growth point to share with anxious administrators who see what seems to be stagnant or limited growth for ELs on state assessments of ELD and language arts.

Rita Platt (@ritRita Plattaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate student. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls SD in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and consults with local school districts.

John Wolfe (@johnwolfe3rd) is a teacher on special assignment for the Multilingual Department at the Minneapolis Public School District. He has worked with students at all levels as well as provided professional development to fellow teachers. His areas of expertise include English Language Learners, literacy, and integrated technology.

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