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Secondary Reading Program Placement

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No matter which school-wide model of reading intervention is used at the middle or high school levels, the problem of proper reading placement is common to all. School counselors, administrators, and/or data processors making student course schedules typically have little reliable data upon which to make these placements. Using longitudinal standardized test data and input from elementary or middle school teachers can serve as initial placement criteria, but this is far from a perfect process. More on this initial screening here.

Once student schedules have been set, it is frequently a logistical nightmare to make changes. Class sizes, other course placements (such as with math levels), and parent input all are part of the decision-making process. Every set-in-stone any placement process will have exceptions. New students and student transfers throughout the year come to mind. Administrators who value the importance of reading will ensure the flexibility of the process to prioritize student needs over programmatic concerns.

Once school has started in the fall, it does make sense to have a “weeding out” and “weeding in” assessment process in place to confirm proper placement for reading intervention. This is important for already-placed and yet-to-be-placed students.

Now, an initial caveat is in order before I address this important issue of finding out what students know and don’t know. I do buy into the Response to Intervention (RTI) model that minimizes tracking and promotes differentiated instruction. Most all students should be in heterogeneously mixed Tier I classes in which well-trained teachers differentiate literacy instruction. However, some mix of push-in, pull-out instruction makes sense for Tier II and III students.

Secondary Reading Program Placement Assessments

Now as to the assessments themselves… Why waste time and money on an achievement test that purports to determine reading levels when diagnostic assessments will provide teachers with both the sorting data and the data that can be used to differentiate instruction? Killing two birds with one stone makes sense. So, which initial diagnostic assessments are needed to double-check initial placements and place new students?

I suggest whole-class diagnostic assessments in phonics (decoding) and spelling (encoding) and individual oral fluencies from brief passages found in the grade-level literature (narrative) and history or science (expository) textbooks. The phonics and spelling diagnostics will cover the word identification side of the ledger and the fluencies will measure the word recognition side. Secondary teachers shouldn’t shy away from creating their own oral fluencies which are representative of their instructional textbooks. It’s really not rocket science. After all, teachers need to know whether students can read their books or not.

How much time will these screening assessments take to administer and record?

The comprehensive phonics test linked above takes 15 minutes to administer and 1 minute per student to correct and record on an assessment matrix. The comprehensive spelling test linked above takes 25 minutes to administer and 2 minutes per student to correct and record. Both tests can be corrected and recorded by responsible student aides, paraprofessionals, or parents. I recommend 30 second fluencies for each narrative and expository passage, so 1 minute to administer and record per student. Recording matrices are provided in the above links.

Now, of course these assessments are not the only ones we should use in reading intervention (Tier II and III) classes, but they will more than suffice as a Harry Potter sorting hat.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 390 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

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