TSR Connect

November/December 2018

relevant research

Understanding What the Data Tells Us

Making sound decisions for prekindergarten student achievement based on data is not only wise but standard practice. Ongoing progress monitoring assessment is a part of the cycle that forms a continual feedback loop for teachers. This teaching and learning cycle includes four key elements: teaching, assessment, evaluation, and planning.


The Teaching and Learning Cycle. Copyright 1999. Reprinted with permission of Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc., Katonah, NY.

Teaching is providing the amount of support necessary to ensure that new learning occurs. For that to happen, the teacher must know what the learner needs and how to teach it. She makes decisions based on the teaching and learning cycle. The teaching and learning cycle describes the process by which teachers make professional instructional decisions and then act on those decisions. The goal of any teaching is to produce new learning, which in turn provides a new assessment sample for the teacher to evaluate. (The Teaching and Learning Cycle, 1999)

The Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) assessment system for pre-K, officially known as the CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System, is a user-friendly, online tool that allows teachers to almost instantly assess a child’s progress in a particular skill area. Through the use of observable and direct assessments, this reliable yet simplistic data collection prompts teachers to focus on lessons that target their students’ least developed skill areas.

Observable checklists are designed to assess growth in child behaviors that can be easily observed during day-to-day interactions between teachers and preschool students. Importantly, these checklists also include attention to social and emotional domains that are not assessed with the direct measures in the CIRCLE assessments. Understanding these domains is important for early childhood educators interested in understanding the development of the whole child across cognitive and social skills.

Systematic monitoring of children’s progress across skills plays an important role in showing what children already know and understand. When using progress monitoring tools that give immediate feedback, teachers can ensure that all children benefit from classroom instruction. Based on results from child progress monitoring reports, teachers can provide high quality, intensive instruction that is designed specifically for individual children’s needs.

The intent of the CIRCLE Progress Monitoring tool is to help teachers identify learning areas in which their students are developing a level of understanding that is expected for their age. The tool also identifies areas in which students might need more targeted support and practice.

In order to understand the results, one needs to understand what the data reveals. The assessment measures include benchmarks that determine how well students are learning a specific set of competencies. To establish benchmarks for measures, multiple sets of data are collected and examined within the specific language and age ranges of the students.

The CIRCLE Progress Monitoring System provides color coding to identify children at risk for academic difficulties based on scoring against a formal or informal benchmark for specific age ranges. Formal benchmarks are scientifically identified through comparison of sufficiently sized data sets. Informal benchmarks are not identified through an examination of data but are recommendations that can guide instructional decision making. If a benchmark exists for an age range, the shade of color presented indicates if it is a formal benchmark (dark shade) or informal benchmark (light shade). Colors used in the assessments indicate the following:

  • Green / light green – the child meets the benchmark and is 3.0-4.9 years of age (proficient)
  • Orange / yellow – the child does not meet the benchmark and is between 3.0-3.9 years of age (developing)
  • Red / pink – the child does not meet the benchmark and is at least 4 years old (emergent)
  • Blue / light blue – the measure has benchmarks but not for the child’s age range
  • No color – the measure has no benchmarks

CLI’s validation efforts are ongoing and benchmarks are added as they become available. Determined benchmarks are dichotomous: proficient or not proficient. This latter category includes developing and emerging classifications depending on the age group. Emergent was set as an indicator for those students under the age of four who essentially have an additional year in pre-K to reach proficiency.

In our progress monitoring system, the phonological awareness and mathematics measures both include sub-measures that are formal and informal. The informal sub-measures are described as optional on the assessment toolbar. To better understand the collected data, let’s take a closer look at the phonological awareness measure.

Benchmark validity for phonological awareness is based on the composite (total) score of the four core sub-measures: syllabication, onset-rime, alliteration, and rhyming I (receptive rhyming). Based on their composite score, a student may meet the benchmark. A district or community would not necessarily make district level decisions based on any sub-measure score since the phonological awareness composite score reveals how students are performing according to the benchmark.

The sub-measure results, however, can guide teachers on what activities can be used to support specific phonological awareness needs, but these individual sub-measure results cannot be used as predictors of school readiness in isolation. Sub-measures should be used for instructional planning; that is the reason their color is light. Our validation analysis shows that if a child has low scores (0, 1, 2, etc.) on one or two sub-measures, but met the benchmark for the composite score, the child shows sufficient understanding of phonological awareness.

Alternatively, a proficient score on any sub-measure or on the composite score does not mean that the child is fully developed in this skill and that the teacher should discontinue instruction in this area. It instead means that the child will be able to make sense of the instruction they will receive in kindergarten.

Teachers may have children whose scores are color-coded pink (below range) on all four sub-measures and green (within range) in the total phonological awareness score. These children might not be proficient on the assessed tasks but will have a good foundation when they transition to kindergarten. That being said, at the classroom level, it is important to pay attention to low scores on any of the sub-measures in phonological awareness as teachers can use this information to plan interventions for individual students.


The Teaching and Learning Cycle. (1999). Retrieved from https://www.rcowen.com/WordDocs/The%20Teaching%20and%20Learning %20Cycle%20description.rtf

teaching tips

Using the Small Grouping Tool

We know from research that early identification of learning needs and grouping children according to those needs is known to maximize instructional impact. CLI Engage provides a feature called the small grouping tool that divides children into small groups based on their assessment results. The groups contain children that have not reached the satisfactory level for each skill. The children identified need more practice with certain skills and will benefit from small group instruction.

Identified small groups and suitable activities from the CIRCLE Activities Collection are listed when you click on the “View Groups” button located on the student view assessment screen. Below is an example of the tool’s automatically selected results.

Links to recommended activities provide you with first steps in beginning small group instruction that targets specific skill areas. If more than half of your children are included in a certain group, then you may need to incorporate that skill into a large group activity.


You can further evaluate assessment results and create custom groups by clicking on the “Add Group” button. Customized groups can include children from existing small groups or other children from your class that may benefit from more support. Notes can be added to any group by clicking on the comment bubble button and saved for future reference.

When analyzing your assessment data use these tools to help you develop a plan for children who are identified as in need of intervention:

  • Small grouping tool located within the assessment
  • CIRCLE Activity Collection
  • CLI Engage online professional development for teachers

notable news

  • The CIRCLE Progress Monitoring User Guide provides a thorough overview of the pre-K assessment and all component domains and sub-measures.
  • Teachers can use printed versions of the observable assessments to track student skill development throughout the year.
  • CLI Engage offers data reports at the individual, group, class, school, and district/community levels. Reports provide details on assessment completion, summaries, and growth. Review the How-To Guides reports category for more information.
  • Teachers can create custom small groups of students for targeted instruction and add personal notes by reviewing the small grouping tool instructions.
  • In the CIRCLE Activity Collection the My Activities feature allows users to save favorite lessons that can be added to customized groups in the small grouping tool.
  • Professional development hours are available for many online courses including the popular Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines. Review the full course catalog for all self-paced training options.
  • For step-by-step instructions and resources for all the tools on CLI Engage review and use the provided How-To Guides.

recommended resources

CLI Engage Website

Texas School Ready Website

Children's Learning Institute Website

Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines

Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines

Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS)


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