The Surprising Way iReady Data Can Transform Student Outcomes

With everything I have to deal with as a special education teacher, why in the world would I ever focus on a student's vocabulary. The answer is quite simple. It impacts EVERYTHING!!!

What does this have to do with planning? Planning for students to make IEP goals is ALL based on data. Read on to see how I start planning for my OG groups by answering the larger questions about what in the world is up with my student's vocabulary scores? Is there anything I can do to increase their vocabulary?

I spend the bulk of my teaching time (like everyone else) on phonemic awareness and phonics with a side of fluency and comprehension.

Yes, vocabulary is built into each listen but is it enough???

I would hazard a guess for this group of students, this project is focusing on, it's not even close to helping them close gaps. 

Five facts that prove why this is important

  • Improved Communication Skills:  A strong vocabulary enables students to express themselves clearly and effectively, helping them articulate their thoughts, ideas, and emotions with confidence. It allows them to engage in meaningful conversations, express their needs and opinions, and actively participate in classroom discussions.
  • Reading and Comprehension: As students encounter new words in texts, a rich vocabulary enables them to decipher the meaning of unfamiliar words and understand the overall context. The more words students are familiar with, the better equipped they are to comprehend and enjoy a wide range of written material, expanding their horizons and fostering a love for reading.
  • Academic Success: Many subjects, such as language arts, social studies, and science, require students to understand and use specific vocabulary terms. By expanding their vocabulary, elementary students can better understand textbook content, and comprehend instructions. A broad vocabulary also contributes to better writing skills, allowing students to express their ideas fluently and effectively in assignments and essays.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: A diverse vocabulary enhances critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.  Vocabulary development fosters cognitive flexibility, enabling students to analyze problems, make connections, and draw conclusions based on the information available to them.
  • Increased Confidence and Self-esteem: Building a strong vocabulary instills confidence and boosts self-esteem in elementary students. When children possess a rich vocabulary, they feel more assured in their ability to express themselves and engage in social interactions. They become more comfortable speaking in front of others, advocating for themselves, and participating actively in group activities. This confidence extends beyond the classroom and positively impacts their overall personality development and social interactions.

Science of Reading and Vocabulary

The Science of Reading model recognizes the intricate connection between students' vocabulary and reading development. Vocabulary is a fundamental component of reading comprehension, as understanding the meaning of words is crucial for understanding written text. 

In the Science of Reading model, vocabulary instruction is seen as an essential part of teaching reading skills. By explicitly teaching students the meanings of words, word relationships, and word-learning strategies, educators can equip them with the tools necessary to decode unfamiliar words and make connections between words and their meanings. 

A strong vocabulary enhances students' ability to comprehend and analyze texts, make inferences, and engage in critical thinking. Furthermore, vocabulary instruction in the Science of Reading model goes beyond isolated word memorization; it focuses on teaching words in context, promoting a deeper understanding of how words are used and their nuances. 

Science of Reading, Vocabulary, and Special Education

I have witnessed firsthand how the Science of Reading model of reading and a weak vocabulary can significantly impact students. For students with learning disabilities or language delays, the lack of a solid vocabulary foundation poses immense challenges in their reading journey. 

Without a strong vocabulary, students struggle to comprehend texts, decode unfamiliar words, and make meaningful connections between words and their meanings. This weak vocabulary hinders their ability to access grade-level content, understand instructions, and participate fully in classroom activities. 

It also affects students' overall confidence and self-esteem, as they may feel frustrated and left behind compared to their peers. As a special education teacher, I recognize the critical importance of addressing vocabulary deficits through explicit instruction, targeted interventions, and multisensory approaches. 

By incorporating evidence-based strategies from the Science of Reading model, such as word-learning techniques and vocabulary-building exercises, we can help these students develop a robust vocabulary, overcome reading challenges, and unlock their full potential for academic success.

Which Cliff did I jump off First? 

Head first into some Action Research, because I need something that doesn't replace what I'm ready doing but it also has to be evidence-based. 

But before I jump head-first into setting this idea up … a reality check about why is iReady even a part of my thinking as a Special Education teacher.

How my building and I use iReady: 

  1. It’s dictated by my state and building to use it. Classroom teachers do use the benchmark scores for their yearly professional evaluations as part of their ratings. Most offend beginning of the year to mid-year. 
  2. Teachers do (yet frowned upon & 🙄) use either the Benchmark, Category, or Growth Monitoring score for Read Plans. 
  3. Read Plan cut-scores come from iReady Scaled Scores (students who need to be placed on a Read Plan K-3)
  4. Our building RTI/MTSS team, lets teachers use the same Read Plan goals for RTI/MTSS goals to help with the workload. 
  5. iReady as a whole is only as good as the student taking it meaning it reflects how a student feels about testing.
  6. iReady aligns with state standards.
  7. Specialists and administration look at most of the data from a balcony view, so the whole grade or a whole population of students.
  8. iReady will pull out program strengths and needs. But it takes time with both a program and using iReady to ensure you have a solid picture to make decisions about.
  9. Building Interventists use iReady Benchmark to create groups to pull for both reading and math.

A few cons to using iReady Benchmark scores, category, or Growth Monitoring Scores to make decisions. 

  1. iReady Reading will pull out a program’s and grade levels strengths and needs–aka the good, the bad, and the ugly. (ask the question be prepared for the answer even if you don’t like it) & in my case falls way outside of my purview but it has come up in student-specific conversations. (which is toad-ally fun)
  2. To the best of my knowledge, the Benchmark Data (whole and category-scaled scores) are the only thing that you can do something with on a macro scale. An example: "By iReady mid-years, and given small group phonics instruction, Joey will be able to increase his iReady phonics score from 350 to 400 scaled points."
  3. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a student’s not feeling it how accurate is it??? Hence the need for a body of evidence when you start talking about needing additional interventions, need to make a course change, or looking at special education testing. 
  4. Using the data from Growth Monitorings is a no-go. The Growth Monitor is designed to be a “dipstick” of how things are going. It’s short and to the point. It doesn’t test across all five domains every time you give it. This means you have a high probability of getting false data. Couple that with making intervention decisions off of and well … off the cliff we go.  It also takes at least 4 data points to get a student-specific trend line.

I cannot change how my building uses iReady for intervention progress monitoring. I can only change the progress monitoring tool when the students are brought for me to review or a teacher comes to me with a question about what tool to use.

Teachers and Parents: If you use or see iReady Progress Monitoring for Read Plans or for RTI/MTSS goals, ask yourself, “Is this progress monitoring tool going to give me the information I need to make instructional decisions?” “Is it specific enough to tell me if the student has mastered the skill or not?”

Do Not use it if you don’t have to create goals and as a progress monitoring tool. 

What do I do with iReady Data as a Special Education teacher?

I use iReady as a special education teacher as part of their body of evidence. It is part of their whole data story. It is part of the WHOLE STUDENT and is never used as the end-all-be-all of a student. 


Depending on which data set you are looking at within iReady you can only gleam specific information or thoughts around a student or Core instruction.

In my building, the hope is that if the student is in any interventions, you can see it translate back to moving Benchmark scores aka the Student's Annual or Stretch growth. (this also requires additional data not just these data points)

This means iReady should not replace intervention-specific data collection–the mirco data you are collecting on if the intervention is working. iReady will give you notions of carryover. 

iReady is the macro the big picture. In my building, iReady is a pretty good predictor of how 3rd-6th grade students will perform on the State Assessment in April. (Yes, this means Spring Benchmark is given after students take the State Assessment. And, yes, I can only speak for my state and building. And our state-reported data has held this idea to be true the last four years–even though COVID–both good and bad.)

Back to how I use this information as part of my data collection for students who see me for reading or math. 

  1. The Fall benchmark is where I look at where my students scored the lowest and the highest. This gives me a gauge as to how students are coming back to school after having 10 weeks off. These scores tend to align with IEP goals and end-of-year progress monitoring data. Such as the Phonics "can dos" matching the CORE phonics survey data. 
  2. Benchmark to Benchmark data look at the percentages it can tell you if students dropped. I use the percentage data more than the Scaled Scores. (If you can always print out the benchmark data.) 
  3. I look at the Can Dos to gain insight into skill breakdowns. These can give ideas as to the next steps and may or may not align with IEP goals. The insights here help me more with math than reading. 
  4. I pull the Diagnostic results for all the grades aka the ultimate balcony view. This is a must for my LD reports and any intervention questions I get. I pull grade-level Scaled Score averages after each Benchmark. I have to report how the student compares to their grade level peers. 
  5. From an RTI/MTSS perspective, the Diagnostic Report, allows you to break down the data to understand if you have a strong core in reading or math and set building or grade-level goals to move students across bands.  
  6. My state and building/district mandate classroom teachers give the Reading growth monitor each month for Read Plan students. It takes at least four data points to get anything useful from the information.  (See #7 for more)
  7. I can assign the Math Growth Monitor. I have in the past given this as part of the monthly progress monitoring data I collect. Like with Reading it takes time to get anything one could call useful and most certainly nothing I would ever set goals using. If, and I do mine if, the student took the assessment seriously I can see if both Core and intervention as working or if they were messing around on a Diagnostic. (like that never happens)
  8. I can ONLY usefully use the Benchmark numbers to make instructional decisions. This means I can compare Fall to Winter; Winter to Spring; and Fall to Spring.  The data from Winter in my building historically, is not reliable as most students drop. (Some a little. Some a lot. That’s a whole different rant for a different time. lol.) 

I did promise the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is how we use iReady. Is it the only way, probability not. Are there other reports, things to glime, or things not to do, most likely but this is what I'm going with.

Stay tuned for how I plan to attack this for the coming school year and learn some nuggets that you can take back and use in the fall to build student vocabulary that are research-backed and align with the Science of Reading.

Chat soon-

PS--Have a different way to use iReady or a suggestion on what not to do, please share. I'd love to hear how others use iReady to help close students' academic gaps. 

1 comment:

  1. This data enables personalized learning plans tailored to each student's specific needs, ensuring that they receive the right level of challenge and support.


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Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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