Program Guides: the Missing Piece for Effective Data Collection

Categories: Data

If you made beautiful data sheets and spent time training your staff you might expect smooth sailing for the rest of the year. You may even be shocked when two months later you review the data (oops) and things aren’t going quite as you had planned. The program completely shifted gears, your student hit mastery criteria a month ago and you have no clue what they have been doing since then, or the student has mastered the skill but is still painstakingly completing the same task each day. You are frustrated and annoyed… with yourself. Because while you did a stellar job making data sheets and doing staff training you forgot one important piece – the Program Guide.

What is a program guide?

A program guide is just a basically a simple, plain-English version of the IEP goal or concept being worked on. Have you ever referenced that 87 page IEP in the middle of a school day? Heck no. You need a concrete and straightforward version of that goal to work off of. A program guide explains exactly how the program looks. The goal here is that any random person could pick up the page and know exactly how you want the goal to be run. And in some of our classrooms with one million staff changes – that random person walking in may not be too far from reality.

What should a program guide include?

You don’t need to get super fancy. This should be easy to read. No fancy education jargon allowed. Explain what the program looks like. What does the adult say and do? How are we expecting the child to respond? Explain how the adult should respond given a correct answer, incorrect answer, or no answer. Explain how to score the response on the data sheet.


Also be sure to include your skill sequence. Once one set of skills is mastered, what are they doing next? If you are working on red, yellow, and blue – what colors will come after that? It’s so important to include this! I learned this lesson the hard way. I would set up my para with a data sheet, materials, and a few targets. She would mentioned in the middle of the morning backpack put-away chaos that Mark had mastered elbow, neck, and foot in his body part identification program. I’d say awesome, I’ll get you the next 3 body parts to work asap. And then I would literally immediately forgot. Like immediately. The words would barely leave my mouth and I was on to putting out the next fire. Fast forward two weeks later and I’m silently pissed off because the para is working on the same boring puzzle for the 4th time this week with the student. Well, duh. I didn’t give them anything else to work on. Make it easier on yourself and your staff. Plan ahead.

Include mastery criteria. How many correct does the student need to achieve in how many days before they move on? We talked above about planning out that skill sequence. You’ve nicely arranged all of your targets into sets. You need to also plan discrimination sets. After you work on sets 1 and sets 2 – work on sets 1 and 2 together. After set 3 is mastered, work on set 1, 2, and 3 together. Always plan for discrimination!

You think this is awesome but you are super overwhelmed at the prospect of setting these all up? I gotcha. I have sets of pre-created program guides and data sheets. There are editable versions included so you can customize to your heart’s content. YAS!

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 1

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 2

Discrete Trial Goal Sheets and Data Forms Set 3


  1. Hi Sasha!

    I purchased all of your DTT trials and goal sheets awhile back and I have yet to use them (just due to all the other chaos going on in my room!). But I wanted to ask you, do you put all DTT programs in the binder for the students just so you have a flow of programs or do you just pull out what they’re currently working on then switch it?

  2. Great question. I like to keep a binder with hard copy of all program guides and data sheets and then the one we are currently work on are photocopied and put into my data binder. Hope this helps!

  3. I thought I was the only one who couldn’t remember things 5 sec. after I’d said it. I was beginning to think I was losing it. I’m so glad it’s not just me.


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