Task Analysis to Measure Student Growth

Task Analysis is a great way to measure growth.  As a special education teacher, I used task analysis with my students to measure their increasing independence on a task.  This method can be applied anytime a student is growing/improving by completing a task with less and less scaffolding (for example, independence in reading a text, throwing a vase on the ceramics wheel or independence in a data analysis process).

By using task analysis to measure student growth, teachers use authentic assessment which can be adapted to many student abilities without needing to “reinventing the wheel” each year. The results will tell you about students’ abilities and how to pivot your instruction with each student.

To Measure Student Growth In 3 Easy Steps

Step #1:  Determine the number of steps within a larger task

Step #2:  Describe the levels of independence within each step

Step #3:  Measure student’s baseline ability and monitor growth in independence

Understanding Task Analysis

Task analysis is the process of breaking a task into smaller, more manageable steps that are required to complete a task such as brushing teeth, executing a push-up or setting a table. As the smaller steps are mastered, the learner becomes increasingly independent in his or her ability to perform the larger task. Task analysis is a flexible tool that can be used to monitor growth on many different kinds of tasks. Task analysis is effective in teaching social skills, self-help skills, and life skills.

Monitoring Growth

In Special Education Classrooms…

Measuring student growth in environments where the curriculum is behavioral in nature, as opposed to academic, is quite possible. At times, special education teachers of students in these environments are not certain to show student growth for the purpose of teacher evaluation.  Using task analysis to measuring and monitor student growth within a larger task works well in these environments.

In Performance Based Classrooms…

Assessments in classrooms that focus on performance of skills such as the performing arts or physical education, can lose their authenticity with assessments that only measure the final product (do a proper pushup or play this 8 bar excerpt of music), or only measure in a modality quite different than the typical classroom learning experience (multiple choice test in a drawing class).  Task analysis allows the teacher to measure student ability at the different complex levels of the task, and monitor improvement between the layers.

To Measure Multi-Step Skills….

Task analysis is an effective way to plan the teaching and monitoring of skills that require several steps to be performed in a specific order such as tying shoes or larger more complex tasks (e.g. cleaning a cafeteria). Task analysis can often be used to take a much larger group of skills (such as those used in a complex vocational task like cleaning a cafeteria) and break them down into phases. The phases can be taught and monitored as smaller sections helping to assist in mastering of the larger task.

The evidence shows that task analysis is an effective practice to use at the preschool, elementary, and middle school levels. It is reasonable to assume that it would be an effective practice for older learners, as well. Task analysis can be used in any environment.  Generalization of skills is more likely to occur when the task is taught over multiple environment (washing hands).


Part 1: Steps within a Task

Task analysis can be used with a variety of school learning

  1. Self-Help Skills (ex: drinking from a cup)
  2. Life Skills (ex: shopping at the grocery store)
  3. Academic Skills (ex: writing a research paper, solving a system of equations)

START HERE:  Your first step to begin a task analysis is to determine the necessary steps to perform the task.

Don’t forget about prerequisite skills that may impact a student’s ability to perform the task.

For example, one will not be able to teach students to print their names if they have not mastered the skill of holding a pencil.

NEXT: Once the prerequisite skills are identified, the instructor should also list any materials necessary to complete the task.

Part 2: Components of the Task

By breaking a skill down into smaller steps a learner can successfully demonstrate growth in the skill by gaining proficiency/independence in the steps.

For example:

Solving Systems of Equation

  • Rearrange each equation so the variables are on one side (in the same order) and the constant is on the other side.
  • Multiply one or both equations by an integer so that one term has equal and opposite coefficients in the two equations.
  • Add the equations to produce a single equation with one variable.
  • Solve for the variable.
  • Substitute the variable back into one of the equations and solve for the other variable.
  • Check the solution–it should satisfy both equations.

Setting the Table

(Goodson et al., 2006)

  • Puts down the placemat
  • Places the large plate in the center of the placemat
  • Puts the small plate in the upper left hand side of the placemat
  • Puts the butter knife on the small plate
  • Places the napkin to the left of the large plate National Professional Development
  • Puts the knife and spoon to the right of the large plate
  • Puts the fork to the left of the large plate on the napkin
  • Puts the dessert spoon and fork horizontally at the top of the large plate
  • Puts the glass to the upper right of the large plate near the tip of the knife

Throwing A Ball

  • Obtains materials (ball, glove)
  • Place glove on correct hand
  • Place ball in correct (opposite the ball) hand
  • Step in direction of throw with correct foot
  • Follow over-hand throw component with correct arm (opposite the foot)
  • Throw ball toward catching glove


Writing a Research Paper

  • Choose a topic
  • Research the topic
  • Compile important information
  • Sort important information into categories
  • Create an outline
  • Create a rough draft of document
  • Proofread/edit document
  • Create final draft

What does it look like?

The look of a task analysis rubric will vary depending upon the task.  In Figure 1, the rubric is measuring growth in independence of washing hands.  In Figure 2, the rubric is measuring growth in completing steps necessary to finish a vending machine job independently.

Figure 1

Task Analysis- Hand Washing

Figure 2

Task Analysis- Vending Machine


Standards Aligned IEP: Guidance from US DOE

US Department of Ed Offers Additional Guidance on FAPE.

On November 16, 2015, the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services wrote to clarify that an individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.

The term “general education curriculum” is not specifically defined in the IDEA. The Department’s regulations implementing Part B of the IDEA, however, state that the general education curriculum is “the same curriculum as for nondisabled children.” 34 CFR §300.320(a)(1)(i).

May Restrict Scope or Complexity

The Department recognizes that there is a very small number of children with the most significant cognitive disabilities whose performance must be measured against alternate academic achievement standards, as permitted in 34 CFR §200.1(d) and §300.160(c). As explained in prior guidance, alternate academic achievement standards must be aligned with the State’s grade-level content standards. The standards must be clearly related to grade-level content, although they may be restricted in scope or complexity or take the form of introductory or prerequisite skills.

In a case where a child’s present levels of academic performance are significantly below the grade in which the child is enrolled, in order to align the IEP with grade-level content standards, the IEP Team should estimate the growth toward the State academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled that the child is expected to achieve in the year covered by the IEP. In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap. The IEP must also include the specialized instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability necessary to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the State academic content standards that apply to all children in the State. An example is provided beginning on page 5 of the attached document.

In Summary: IEP aligns to standards

In sum, consistent with the interpretation of “general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children)” based on the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled set forth in this letter, an IEP Team must ensure that annual IEP goals are aligned with the State academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled. The IEP must also include the specially designed instruction necessary to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and ensure access of the child to the general education curriculum, so that the child can meet the State academic content standards that apply to all children, as well as the support services and the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals.

Download the Original Document:

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 2.09.37 PM

Guidance on FAPE – U.S. Department of Education

Measuring Growth: Diverse Classes & Caseloads

The requirements of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) have made some Special Education teachers feel as though we are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Classrooms are unique; caseloads are diverse.  The struggle of finding a way to measure and monitor multiple students with a wide range of ability levels under a single SLO becomes a challenge.

Do not despair!  There are many ways to approach the process of writing your SLO and growth goals to accomplish the objectives of the process while also keeping the work meaningful and helpful to the educator.

Learning Goals

Think of the learning goal as the backbone of the SLO.  For every SLO there must be an overarching goal:  an “umbrella” that encompasses the specific type of learning measured under this tool.  The learning goal should focus on a “big idea.”  The big idea should integrate multiple content standards, link units of instruction together and represent the most important learning happening with the students.  Teachers will inevitably have several big ideas in a school year, but they are not all to be included in the same SLO.

When working with a diverse population, think about a learning goal that may be applicable to multiple students.  For example, if you select writing skills as part of a learning goal, you can measure students working on pre-writing skills as well as students working on developing words or sentences.  Using a performance assessment where your students can show their level of expertise through multiple work samples, coupled with a robust and descriptive rubric, the educator can measure diverse ability levels. In this case, each student would have an individual goal for progress set based on his or her baseline results.  The overall SLO growth goal would indicate that students reach those individual growth targets.  Thus, under the same SLO, a wide range of student ability levels can be successfully measured and monitored for growth.


Arguably the most important element of the whole SLO process is the assessment tools themselves.  If teachers are not using quality tools to measure and monitor the learning of students, the entire process is in vain!  Creating an assessment that is authentic and appropriate for an educator’s student population will be of utmost importance.  In special education cases, the performance assessment coupled with a high quality, descriptive rubric will allow the teacher the ability to reliability gather data about learning and growth.

There is some concern among some educators that performance assessments do not allow teachers to gather reliable or accurate growth data.  Taking steps to intentionally increase the reliability of results with strategic and reliable rubrics will increases the consistency in grading between students as well as the consistency in grading between measurement points.  Much of this reliability lies in the tool itself as well as how it is implemented.

Rubrics to measure growth in a classroom with a wide range of ability levels must be robust enough to measure the variety of ability levels present.  That means a rubric for these scenarios may have more columns of potential rating categories than a classroom with a smaller range of ability levels.  The rubric should represent all levels of potential learning so growth can be documented for all students.

Do not shy away from measuring student independence as well.  This type of rubric gives the highest amount of points going to students who can accomplish the task independently, and students who can do the task with verbal and gestural prompts get less point respectively.  Thus, educators can measure students at several different ability levels using the same tool.

SLO Roster

Each SLO has a defined population.  These students become the “roster” for the SLO.  A teacher’s SLO roster does not need to include every student on the caseload.  Under a single learning goal “umbrella,” there may be a clear distinction as to which students this SLO should include, and which it should exclude.  It is a worthwhile note that increasing sample size will allow more accurate data, so it is recommended that teachers select learning goals and develop SLO rosters that include larger groups of students when possible.

Writing Goals

The flexibility educators have in writing goals for the SLOs is crucial to making this process meaningful to special education teachers.

Individualized goals allow the educator to create a specific goal for each student under the same Learning Goal.  For example, a teacher may have gathered baseline data for several students using an outing rubric.  This tool measured their ability to cross the street and order at a restaurant.  Each student included on the SLO roster can have an individualized target, and the overall SLO goal would be that students achieve their individualized growth.

Tiered goals allow the educator to group similar students together and set specific goals for each tier.  These tiered goals still fit under the same learning goal.  For example, a teacher may have gathered baseline data in math skills. This tool measured several major standards under the same learning goal.  Goals for students who have similar skill intervention needs can be set as separate tiers within the group.

Make it Work for Kids

At the end of the day the most important thing we can do is ensure that all students are growing and improving.  If teachers are taking advantage of the SLO system flexibility and focusing on the unique needs of their students the process can be a natural partner to the teaching and learning already embedded in our everyday work.  The SLO shouldn’t’ reshape teaching but rather help educators to articulate and monitor the learning and growing process.

Performance Evaluation Reform Act and Special Education

The Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) (Senate Bill 315; Public Act 96-0861) was passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the Governor in January 2010. As a special education teacher, when the Performance Education Reform Act was signed into law, I kept looking for something deeper: it did not seem that the law was asking me to do anything all that different than what I was already doing. I felt as if there was something in the law that I was not understanding.  I expected to have a shift in my thinking process for how I looked at data and student growth expectations in my professional practice.

That thought process eventually led to my “ah ha” moment.  I already use a student growth model in my professional practice! Here are a few examples:


Academic Achievement

PERA says “The joint committee shall consider how certain student characteristics (e.g., special education placement, English language learners, low-income populations) shall be used for each measurement model chosen to ensure that they best measure the impact that a teacher, school, and school district have on students’ academic achievement [105 ILCS 5/24A-7] (Illinois Administrative Code Part 50, Sub. B, Sec. 50.110)

The problem has been: “Academic Achievement” is not specifically defined in Illinois Administrative Code Part 50.  When we look at “academics” in special education, we find numerous scenarios.  For example a student can have an IEP and be in a general education classroom with resource services; a student can be in a self-contained special education classroom with inclusion services; or a student can be in a self-contained special education classroom with 100% of instruction taking place in that environment.  In the last example, students’ “academics” may look very different than in the previous examples.

Academics are currently interpreted as the curriculum a student is learning.  If the majority of a student’s curriculum involves general education skills such as math or reading, then we look to measure growth in these areas.  For example, if a student is in a life skills course and his/her curriculum includes brushing his/her teeth or standing in a stander for a given length of time, then these are the areas we look to measure for growth.  

This excerpt from Colorado has a more specific definition, which is not included in Illinois, but may help your discussion around this concept.


Academics in Special Education

So what might this look like? Good Question.  Short answer: it depends. I mentioned previously there are a number of scenarios as to what this looks like.  This may look different in each kid, each building, or in each district. PERA is measuring a teacher’s impact on a student or group of students. Ultimately, we have to determine what that looks like for each special education teacher and design growth assessments accordingly. Below are just a couple scenarios of how this might look in a couple of different environments.

General Education With and Without Supplemental Aides and/or Related Services

Scenario 1: Student with an IEP in a general education classroom with intervention minutes assigned to the special education teacher (resource model)

(Summary: yes “traditional” academic, no behavioral) It is possible to have a student in a general education reading class who has an IEP goal that is behavioral in nature such as time-on-task or organizational skills.  In this situation, one would look to measure growth in the area of reading as this student’s curriculum is aligned with the Common Core Reading Standards.

How the special education teacher writes a growth assessment can depend on what the PERA Joint Committee decided in regards to shared responsibilities. In a shared teaching situation, the general education teacher is the content specialist and the special education teacher is the strategy specialist.  One option is for the student to take the general education assessment with accommodations or modification allowed for in the IEP.  The special education teacher as the strategy specialist may look to create a rubric that measures the strategies taught to the student (i.e. number of prompts a student needs). This allows for the student to only be assessed once while the assessment itself is scored in two different ways. We do not want our students with different learning needs, whether special education or other, to be over assessed because teacher A needs data points while teacher B also needs data points.

Special Education Services Outside of General Education

Scenario 2: Student with an IEP in a self-contained classrooms for academics

(Summary: yes “traditional” academic) In this setting, students are still learning traditional academics (Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, etc.) so we look to measure for growth in these areas.  For example, it is very likely that you have multiple students in a math class performing at various levels.  That is okay…you can still measure for growth!

Scenario 3: Student with an IEP in a functional self-contained classroom.

(Summary: yes behavioral) Remember, we are measuring curriculum.  In this environment, it is possible that an individual student’s curriculum is tolerating a length of time in a stander. In this example, one could write a growth goal for the length of time a student is able to spend in his/her stander without shouting out.  Think of the scope and sequence for your course.  Think of the daily “things” (curriculum) you teach students and look to measure for growth in those areas.

Often new laws, acts, or initiatives are written for the masses (Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science) and we feel like we do not “fit” anywhere.  PERA has a number of areas that are currently open to interpretation.  This should be very empowering as teachers, especially as teachers of students with different learning needs. Remember to stay authentic to the work (growth) that is happening in your classroom.  A teacher’s impact on student learning is what is being measured so we want to make sure we can truly talk about one’s impact on a student’s learning through these assessments.

Using the IEP Goal as the Growth Goal

You have now determined what to measure for growth, but how do you write the growth goal/target?  Special education teachers often ask, “Can’t I use the IEP goals as my growth targets?”. Short answer is no.  Is it possible they may look very similar: yes! Here are some reasons why the IEP goals aren’t always a good fit for the growth goal/target:

  • You may not be the person who wrote the IEP goal
  • The length of instructional interval for the IEP may not match the instructional interval for the assessment
  • IEP goals are individual, not a group goal
  • IEP goals are confidential

Types of Growth Goals

When completing the Student Learning Objective (SLO) Framework, you will identify your growth goal/targets.  A common concern among special education teachers is writing one SLO statement/growth goal/target for all of his/her caseload when each student has such different ability levels and/or needs. Here are a couple things to help:

Your SLO doesn’t need to include every student on your caseload

Your SLO has a single learning goal, you will want to include all students for which this same learning goal applies

Consider Tiered goals

Consider Individual goals

Tiered Student Goals: Students are broken into groups with similar features.  Goals are written for separate tiers.  Click on the image for an example.


Individual Student Goals: Personalized, individual goals are written for each student. DawnArticle4

Templates that match the growth goal types and sample templates document can be found here: http://kidsatthecore.com/Downloads/GrowthGoalTypesSampleTemplates.pdf

Congratulations, you are ready to measure student growth!  You have determined your assessments to be used and what they will measure for growth. Now you have some concrete examples for how you might write those growth goals.  This is an exciting time for education, and especially for special education.  We get to talk about the growth that is happening in our classrooms and use that to determine our impact on students’ achievement.  No longer do we have to reach an attainment score, but we can celebrate our students overall growth during an instructional interval!