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Special Education Progress Monitoring

Want to know how a student is making progress in special education?

Positive reinforcment

What is progress monitoring

Progress monitoring for special education is a process through which teachers track the progress of students with disabilities in order to determine whether they are making adequate progress

What is good data and what is not

Good data is information that is accurate, timely, and relevant. It can be used to make informed decisions about a variety of topics

Progress monitoring is not assessment

Progress monitoring is a process of measuring a student's progress over time in order to make decisions about changes to instruction. Assessment, on the other hand, is a one-time measure of student performance.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is anything that occurs after a behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will reoccur.

What are Different Types of Reinforcers?

Social Reinforcers

  • Praise for appropriate behavior such a good job and I can tell you are working really hard.

  • Expressions of approval through facial or body expression (nodding your head, smiling, clapping, a pat on the back.

Activity Reinforcers

  • Allowing students to choose the preferred activity (games, computer time, reading

Tangible Reinforcers

  • Tangible reinforcers are something that can be given such as edibles, toys, balloons, stickers and awards.

  • Awards home and displayed work can also be powerfully motivating reinforcers.

Token Reinforcement

  • The process of awarding points, tokens or classroom dollars for appropriate behavior. The reward itself does not have a lot of value but when saved and exchanged for something larger can initiate longer-term motivation.

Isn’t giving reinforcement like bribing a student?

Why reward students for just doing what is expected.


​These are common unfortunate attitudes expressed by other teachers and staff do not understand the benefit and the successes that come along with the appropriate use of positive reinforcement. Carefully structured and planned positive reinforcement is very effective in changing student behavior from undesirable outcomes to desirable ones. Reinforcement is a structure that can be used to teach them responsibility for their behavior not bribe them for good behavior. For example: as adults, we are all motivated to perform well at work in order to receive our positive reinforcement of a paycheck. Our paycheck is something we have earned for doing what we are expected to do in a responsible and productive manner. Our bosses do not bribe us with a paycheck.

How Should I Choose a Reinforcer?

Reinforcers must be 

  • valued

  • preferred

  • individualized

Students are all individuals with different likes and preferences so what might be highly motivating for one student will not be for others.  Keep a few items on hand just in case.


The power of observation
Choosing reinforcers by observing your student's positive behaviors and how they spend their free time can help guide you.

  • What kind of activities does the student seek out?

  • What objects or games does the student currently used to reinforce their own behavior?

  • Do they listen to music in their free time?

  • Do they play a handheld video game at lunch?


The power of communication
Ask the student. When designing a plan to modify behavior, give the student a list of choices and ask what he or she would like to try to earn. For example, if setting up a token economy for work completed, let the student choose from a list of activities to find out which he or she is interested in earning.

Monitor. Periodically review by observation and discussion whether the reinforcer remains preferred or whether a new reinforcer is necessary.


Do a formal preference assessment.

How Should Reinforcement be Delivered?

In order to make positive reinforcement an effective intervention, use the following guidelines:

  • Reinforcement must be consistently delivered. Use a planned reinforcement schedule. If it is not, no connection will develop between appropriate behavior and the reinforcement and the behavior will not change

  • Reinforcement must be delivered immediately. Students should know when they can expect reinforcement. If you wait until the end of the day to reinforce a student for remaining in her seat during second period, the effect of reinforcement is reduced if not lost. If it is impossible to deliver reinforcement immediately, verbal reinforcement should be given and the student should be told when he or she can expect to receive other reinforcement. In this way, a contingency between behavior and reinforcement will be strengthened or maintained.

  • Improvement should be reinforced. Do not wait until the student’s behavior is perfect to deliver reinforcement. You should recognize improvement and let the student know that you recognize the effort.

  • Reinforcement must be contingent on behavior. Do not give reinforcement because you feel sorry for a student. If a student does not achieve the required criterion, delivering reinforcement will only teach the student that rewards are readily available regardless of behavior and may even lead to an escalation of the behavior. Rather, recognize that you know the student is disappointed but that they will have the opportunity to try again tomorrow.

  • Whenever possible, pair any reinforcement with social reinforcement. If your reinforcement plan is letting students participate in preferred activities, make sure to give some sort of social reinforcement, such as telling the student, “You really did an excellent job today. You should be really proud of yourself” or let the student choose another student for the activity.

  • Make sure that social reinforcers are not ambiguous. They should be sincere, clear and identify the specific behavior for which they are being delivered.

  • Reinforcement should be age-appropriate. Expecting a high school student to change his behavior by rewarding him with stickers is likely to be ineffective and insulting to the student.

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