How To: Track Growth in Written Expression in the Elementary Grades

Learning Spark Blog: Jim WrightThe act of writing is complex. Translating thought into written expression requires that the student master a host of foundation writing skills, including the physical production of text; and mastery of rules of capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and syntax (Robinson & Howell, 2008).


Tracking student growth in emerging writing skills can be confusing and time-consuming. So teachers may want to check out Curriculum-Based Measurement-Written Expression (CBM-WE), an efficient, reliable method of formative student assessment. CBM-WE yields numeric indicators that are instructionally useful, such as total words written, correctly spelled words, and correct writing sequences (Gansle et al., 2006). CBM-WE probes are group-administered writing samples with an administration time of about 4 minutes. CBM-Written Expression is therefore a powerful means to monitor a student's progress in the mechanics and conventions of writing. 


CBM-Written Expression: What It Measures.  Teachers have several assessment options to choose from when using CBM-Written Expression  (Gansle et al., 2006; Wright, 1992):

  • Total Words Written (TWW): This measure is a count of the total words written during the CBM-WE assessment. Teachers might select Total Words Written as a progress-monitoring target if the student needs to focus on writing fluency (getting more words onto the page).
  • Correctly Spelled Words (CSW): This measure is a count of correctly spelled words written during the CBM-WE assessment. If poor spelling is a blocker to student writing, the teacher may select this monitoring target.
  • Correct Writing Sequences (CWS): This measure is a tabulation of correct 'writing sequences' written during the CBM-WE assessment. One Correct Writing Sequence is scored whenever two adjacent units of writing (e.g., two words appearing next to each other) are found to be correct in their punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and syntactical and semantic usage. When the student is expected to have mastered the basic mechanics and conventions of writing, Correct Writing Sequences are a useful method to track this group of interrelated skills. 

CBM-Written Expression Fluency Measures: How to Access Resources. Teachers who wish to screen their students in basic writing skills can obtain these free CBM-Written Expression assessment resources:

CBM: Written Expression: Grades 1-6
Directions for Administration & Scoring


  • Gansle, K. A., VanDerHeyden, A. M., Noell, G. H., Resetar, J. L., & Williams, K. L. (2006). The technical adequacy of curriculum-based and rating-based measures of written expression for elementary school students. School Psychology Review, 35, 435-450.
  • Malecki, C. K., & Jewell, J. (2003). Developmental, gender, and practical considerations in scoring curriculum-based measurement writing probes. Psychology in the Schools, 40, 379-390.
  • McMaster, K., & Espin, C. (2007). Technical features of curriculum-based measurement in writing: A literature review. Journal of Special Education, 41(2), 68-84.
  • Robinson, L. K., & Howell, K. W. (2008). Best practices in curriculum-based evaluation & written expression. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 439-452). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
  • Tadatada, A. (2011). Growth rates of curriculum-based measurement-written expression at the elementary school level. Unpublished master's thesis, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green.
  • Wright, J. (1992). Curriculum-based measurement: A manual for teachers. Retrieved September 23, 20011, from