Wednesday / May 29

Quick Progress Checks: Actively Monitoring Learning and Saving Teachers Time!

This is part two in a series by Dave Nagel. Read Part 1: The Power of Common Formative Assessment 2.0—Learning Progressions and Quick Progress Checks.

One thing that unites all teachers (regardless of their teaching level, subject they teach, or where they went to college) is being time-poor! The biggest frustration and lament caring teachers often share is they feel they never have enough time to do so.

One aspect of Larry Ainsworth’s CFA 2.0 process that can help teachers make sure their instructional actions have the best impact on student learning are effective quick progress checks. Larry describes the importance of short and concise formative assessment elements as part of a unit design that aligns standards, instruction, and assessment. He states that “shorter formative assessments—quick progress checks—occur throughout the unit after learning progressions. These quick checks of student understanding provide immediate feedback that educators use to adjust instruction and that students use to self-regulate their learning strategies (2015, pg.2).”

Shorter & more focused assessments bring students into understanding their current level of learning & allows teachers an opportunity to target both their instructional actions and feedback aligned to what they students truly needand thus potentially maximize instructional time.

Progress checks

Any quality assessment comes down to three essential elements:

  1. Purpose: What was my (our) primary focus for what we wanted to determine our students to could know or be able to do?
  2. Evidence: What type of evidence will we need to see from students demonstrating mastery of these concepts and skills?
  3. Inference: Can we make quality inferences about the students’ level of mastery and understanding to determine our next steps needed instructionally, as well as how to guide students to know their next steps in learning?

Quick Checks Derived from Learning Progressions

In my previous post I addressed the importance for teachers and collaborative teams to develop a logical sequence of learning progressions: The likely sequence or path students will take in advancing their understanding, comprehension, and grasp of essential knowledge and skills during a unit of study. These are collaboratively designed right after teams have developed their post or end of unit common formative assessment to help plan and guide a logical instructional planning sequence.

Learning—Not DOING—Progressions

Teacher teams must realize students will likely reach learning progressions through experience and application—not in simply completing assignments.  Planned instructional tasks and exercises will often be the catalysts for students to grasp new learning. However, teachers can often waste valuable instructional time by focusing on what students complete vs. the demonstration of essential learning. Explicitly planning out logical earning progressions allows teacher (teams) to then make more quality inferences from evidence students produce as to how close they are to mastering essential building blocks and enabling knowledge towards the unit learning intentions.

Using Quick Progress Checks to Make Quality Inferences from Evidence

During a unit, teachers must intentionally plan for how they will determine if students are progressing through the essential learning progressions to know where and when to make real-time & decisive instructional adjustments.

Quick progress checks do not happen randomly; they are intentionally planned to coincide with the unit learning progressions. (2015, p.15) It is essential for teachers (& students) to know how students are progressing relative to the unit learning intentions. Quality progress checks can help teachers quickly make quality inferences as to what the student’s next learning steps are. These can be to look for how students are progressing from one class period to the next as well as over the course of a week into the next. Teachers can then better monitor how the evidence students are demonstrating in their progress checks match their expected pace of instruction.


The following example is adapted from CFA 2.0, page 193 (skills are bolded):

Standard: RI.5.6 Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

In this example, the 5th grade ELA teacher team determined that for students to be able to analyze multiple accounts, they would need to first identify the main purpose of the text, then likely be able to identify and compare points of view from two different authors, and then progress to being able to identify key similarities and differences.

Subskill Enabling Knowledge Quick Progress Checks
Identify Main purpose of a text Students read two brief nonfiction passages (1–2 paragraphs each) on a similar topic or event and identify in writing the main purpose of each passage.
Identify and compare points of view of at least two authors on same topic Students reread the two nonfiction passages on the same topic and respond to the following directions: Identify the author’s point of view in the first reading passage. Identify the author’s point of view in the second reading passage. Compare the two authors’ points of view.
Identify Similarities and differences between points of view on same topic or event  

Students read two brief nonfiction passages on a similar topic written by different authors and then use a Venn diagram to identify the similarities and differences in the points of view of the two authors.

High School Biology Example:

The following example demonstrates that at times learning progressions and quick progress checks are derived from essential pre-foundational knowledge students must have prior to being able to master a grade level standard. Math probability (multiplying fractions) is essential for students to be able to make determinations of potential traits being demonstrated in offspring. If the teachers of this particular standard miss that their students do not have this skill, they could find themselves later in the unit with students struggling to master deeper levels of understanding related to heredity. When teachers have early unit quick progress checks, it can help them be decisive for which students need extra work on this math skill and which students are ready earlier to move on to deeper levels of learning.

Indiana Biology Standard: Determine the likelihood of the appearance of a specific trait in an offspring given the genetic make-up of the parents.

Learning Progressions Foundational Knowledge Quick Progress Checks
Basic Probability Multiplication of fractions Accurate math in fractions (demonstration of accuracy in 5-6 problems)
Understanding that over time probability ratios become more predictable


Multiplication of fractions and making accurate predictions based on evidence Students are accurate in predicting expected ratios after 10, 20, 100 (or more) trials

Written by

Dave Nagel is an international educational consultant and researcher. His educational career started as a middle school science and high school biology teacher. His administrative experiences involved being a middle school assistant principal, high school associate principal, and director of extended day and credit recovery programs. In his former district, Dave was instrumental in implementing power standards and performance assessments. He was honored numerous times as a “Senior Choice” winner, with graduating seniors selecting him as someone who dramatically affected their life in a positive way. Dave has been a national and international presenter and consultant to schools for over 10 years. Using his experience and expertise, he has presented and helped schools, from pre-K through Grade 12, implement effective practices leading to gains in student achievement. His main focus when working with schools has revolved around assessment, instruction, leadership, and effective collaboration. He has worked specifically with schools in implementing the following topics: prioritizing standards, common formative assessments, building authentic performance tasks, effective use of scoring guides, data teams, rigorous curriculum design, and effective grading practices. Dave is the author of Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers.

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