Data Collection for Special Education

Data collection is a regular activity in the special education classroom. It requires assessing the student’s success on individual items in his or her goals on a regular basis, usually at least once a week.

When a special education teacher creates the IEP goals, he or she should also create data sheets to record the student’s progress on individual goals, recording the number of correct responses as a percent of total responses.

Create Measurable Goals

When IEP's are written, it is important that goals are written in a way that they are measurable ... that the IEP specifically names the sort of data and the sort of change that should be seen in a student's behavior or academic performance. If it is a percent of probes completed independently, then data can be collected to provide evidence of how many tasks the child completed without prompting or supports. If the goal is measuring skills in a particular math operation, say addition, then a goal can be written to indicate a percent of probes or problems the student completes correctly. This is often known as an accuracy goal since it is based on the percent of correct responses.

Some school districts require that special educators record their progress monitoring on computer templates the district provides, and store them on shared computer drives where the building principal or the special education supervisor can check to be sure data are being kept. Unfortunately, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in the Medium is the Message, too often the medium, or in this case, the computer program shapes the sorts of data that are collected, which may actually create meaningless data which fits the program but not the IEP Goal or the behavior.

Types of Data Collection

Different kinds of data measurement are important for different kinds of goals.

Trial By Trial: This measures the percent of correct trials against the total number of trials. This is used for discrete trials.

Duration: Duration measures the lengths of behaviors, often paired with interventions to reduce undesirable behaviors, such as tantrums or out of seat behavior.​ Interval data collection is one means to measure duration, creating data that reflects either percent of intervals or percent of complete intervals.

Frequency: This is a simple measure that notes the frequency of either wanted or unwanted behaviors.  These are usually described in an operational way so they can be identified by a neutral observer.

Thorough data collection is an essential way of showing whether a student is or is not making progress on goals. It also documents how and when the instruction is being delivered to the child. If a teacher fails to keep good data, it makes the teacher and the district vulnerable to due process.