What is the Difference between CBA and CBM, and What is the School Psychologists Role?

Curriculum-based Assessment (CBA) and Curriculum-based Measure (CBM) are thrown often when discussing assessment for special education needs. At times, these tools are used interchangeably to describe classroom assessments. However, there is a clear distinction.

What is Curriculum-Based Assessment?

CBA is teacher-created evaluative tools that examine student progress and mastery of concepts. These can be unit tests or quizzes, worksheets, and class projects. CBAs are not standardized. They may or may not be timed (teacher choice). They are also more prone to teacher error. However, they do often show what a student can do in a typical day without special education services.

Behavior observations can be collected during CBAs and add valuable information. For example, if a student always asks to visit the bathroom prior to or during a unit test or quiz then you have some behavioral data on test anxiety.  If a student only completes three out of ten math problems in 30 minutes, then you have information on impeding behavior issues or processing speed.

What is Curricular-Based Measurement?

CBM is standardized evaluative tool that targets specific skills or abilities. They have rules for scoring, start points, and discontinue points. CBMs can assess one skill area (math applications) or many areas (complete academic skills battery). They also have scripted protocols for delivering all parts of the assessment. CBMs are long, require specialized training, and can be confusing when trying to tie results into everyday functioning. However, they can highlight strengths and weaknesses in more objective terms.

Most, if not all, CBMs have sections devoted to behavior observations during testing. These observations can show information related to cultural knowledge, sleep, nutrition, and other factors that may effect performance. The information obtained can indicate whether testing needs to be discontinued and picked up another day. Evaluators can also determine if the results are a valid representation of skills in typical learning environments.

What is the Role of School Psychologists in CBA and CBM?

School psychologists are primarily involved in CBMs through academic assessments. They have specialized training to give and interpret the results of these CBMs. Special education teachers can also give CBMs; however, school psychologists are trained to interpret these results in the context of cognitive/IQ assessments. This level of training is not available to special education teachers.

School psychologists often do not get directly involved in CBAs. However, they can play a critical role in their development. School psychologists can collaborate with teachers to assess the strengths and weakness of classroom activities, unit tests and quizzes, and finding good resources for workbooks and worksheets. They can also collaborate with teachers on how tailor CBAs for students suspected of needing special education services. Therefore, school psychologists, while being focused on CBMs, need to be competent in developing CBAs to help teachers identify students who need help.


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There are distinct differences between CBAs and CBMs. School psychologists need to be competent in both in order to help in Child Find procedures. They also need to know the differences so that collaboration can run smoothly among professionals.

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