Measuring SEN Progress: Writing

Your kids make progress. Here's how you show it!

Young people with learning difficulties make noticeably slower rates of progress than their peers.

While this statement comes as no surprise, demonstrating the progress they do make presents multiple challenges. These include:

  • Our assessment systems do not measure their small gains

  • Students become increasingly frustrated because they see little to no improvements in their writing

  • School staff often struggle to find ways to help these students

With this in mind, you will be pleased to know that there is an evidence-based way monitoring and improving progress in writing. You will be even more pleased to know it is meant for mainstream schools, is easy to use and costs absolutely nothing!

The method is called "Curriculum-Based Measurement" (CBM), it has been around since the mid-1980s (Deno, 1985). It has also proven to be highly effective for measuring and improving reading, writing and maths skills.

CBM measures the small steps

CBM is a method for monitoring small, specific steps. It uses regular, timed assessment of your existing curriculum (yes, the one you are teaching right now) to demonstrate if a student is making improvements as a result of your teaching. The specific, small steps of writing that can be assessed include:

  1. Number of words written in a timed test of 3-7 minutes

  2. Number of words spelled correctly in a timed test

  3. Correct word sequences in a timed test (words that correctly link together including correct punctuation and spelling

  4. Spelling Assessment- correct letter sequences in a spelling test

A step-by-step guide:

Let's use number of words written as an example. Here's how it would look:

To ensure the CBM results are accurate, make sure you always give them the same exact amount of time and have a clear set of instructions written so anyone can administer the assessment.

The power of CBM is not in measuring, charting or graphing progress, but in how we adapt our teaching to meet the needs of our learners so they make as much progress as possible. CBM is useful for whole class, small group, or 1:1 assessment. Thousands of schools across the USA use it. Let's join them!

If you have any questions about what this looks like practically in your lessons, please email me at or fill in the web form on the Contact page. I'd be happy to help!


To have a go at creating your own CBMs and learn a bit more, head to Intervention Central's CBM Warehouse to have learn more.

Additional Reading/Reference:

Deno, S.L., (1985). Curriculum-based measurement: The emerging alternative. Exceptional Children, 52, 219-232

Fuchs, L.S., and Fuchs, D., (nd). Using CBM for Progress Monitoring in Written Expression and Spelling. Retrieved from in May 2019