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ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #1

Many movie theaters are now opting to sell you specific seats for a show time, rather than the traditional first come first served model. Although you have to pay a premium for this advanced purchase option, I think it’s worth every penny. Here’s why: If you time it right, you can show up to your assigned seat right before the start of the movie and skip the annoying previews (usually known as trailers for some reason). According to an editor on Reddit, these trailers (including commercials and warnings to “Please silence your cell phone”) average 15-20 minutes.

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessment Do’s and Don’ts: The Movie Trailer

In my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, I began with a trailer to introduce the articles. This preview, Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples, focused on why teachers want quick, whole-class, comprehensive assessments which produce the specific data regarding what students know and what they don’t know about a subject and why normed tests and achievement tests, such as the PAARC, SWBAC, and other state CCSS tests don’t provide that data. As an enticement to read the articles (and check out my Pennington Publishing programs to teach to the assessments) I provided two assessments which meet that desired criteria: the 1. Alphabetic Awareness Assessment and the 2. Sight Syllables (Greek and Latin prefix and suffix) Assessment. Additionally, the respective downloads include the answers, corresponding matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons.

But first, let’s take a look at the first three-part episode in the Do’s and Don’t of ELA and Reading Assessments series: DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. DO use diagnostic assessments. DON’T assess what you won’t teach. Plus, wait ’til you see the FREE download at the end of this article! Plus, a bonus.

DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.

A number of years ago, our seventh and eighth-grade ELA department gathered over a number of days in the summer to plan a diagnostic assessment and curricular map to teach the CCSS grammar, usage, and mechanics standards L. 1, 2, and 3. I was especially pleased with the diagnostic assessment, which covered K-6 standards and felt that the team was finally ready to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level standards.

By the end of the first two weeks of instruction, every ELA teacher had dutifully administered, corrected, and recorded the results of the assessment on our progress monitoring matrix. I began developing worksheets to target the diagnostic deficits and formative assessments to determine whether students had mastered these skills and concepts. I placed copies of the worksheets in our “share binder.” My students were excited to see their progress in mastering their deficits while we concurrently worked on grade-level instruction.

At our monthly team meeting, I brought my progress monitoring matrix to brag on my students. “That’s great, Mark.” “Nice work. I don’t know how you do it.” No one else had done anything with the diagnostic data.

Somehow I got up enough courage to ask, “Why did you all administer, correct, and record the diagnostic assessment if you don’t plan on using the data to inform your instruction?”

Responses included, “The principal wants us to give diagnostic assessments.” “The test did give me a feel for what my class did and did not know.” “It shows the students that they don’t know everything.” “It confirms my belief that previous teachers have not done a good job teaching, so I have to teach everything.”

Class time is too valuable to waste. Assessment is not an end in and of itself.

DO use diagnostic assessments.

Let’s face it; we all bring biases into the classroom. We assume that Student A is a fluent reader because she is in an honors class. Of course, Student B must be brilliant just like her older brother. Student C is a teacher’s kid, so she’ll be a solid writer. My assumptions have failed me countless times as I’m sure have yours.

Another piece of baggage teachers carry is generalization. We teach individuals who are in classes. “We all talk about a class as if it’s one organism. “That class is a behavioral nightmare.” “That class is so mean to each other.” “It takes me twice as long to teach anything to that class.” “This class had Ms. McGuire last year. She’s our staff Grammar Nazi, so at least the kids will know their parts of speech.” We lump together individuals when we deal with groups. It’s an occupational hazard.

To learn what students know and don’t know, so that we can teach both the class and individual, we have to remove ourselves as variables to eliminate bias and generalizations. Diagnostic assessments do the trick. Wait ’til you download the FREE diagnostic assessment at the end of this article; it transformed my teaching and has been downloaded thousands of times over the years by teachers to inform their instruction.

Additionally, diagnostic assessments force us to teach efficiently. When we learn that half the class has mastered adverbs and half has not, we are forced to figure out how to avoid re-teaching what some students already know (wasting their time) while helping the kids who need to learn. As an aside, many teachers avoid diagnostic assessments because the results require differentiated or individualized instruction. Naivete is bliss. Diagnostic assessments are amazing guilt-producers.

Be an objective teacher, willing to let diagnostic data guide your instruction. Teaching is an art, but it is also a science.

DON’T assess what you won’t teach.

Many teachers begin the school year with a battery of diagnostic assessments. The results look great on paper and do impress administrators and colleagues; however, the only data that is really impressive is the data that you will specifically use to drive instruction. Gathering baseline data is a waste of time if you won’t teach to that data.

I suggest taking a hard look at the diagnostic assessments you gave last year. If you didn’t use the data, don’t do the assessment. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t layer on that diagnostic assessment in the spring if you are willing (and have time) to teach to the data. Diagnosis is not restricted to the fall. Teachers begin the school year with high expectations. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at once.

Additionally, more and more teachers are looking critically about the American tradition of unit-ending tests. Specifically, teachers are using unit tests as formative assessments to guide their re-teaching. Rather than a personal pat on the back (if students scored at an 85% average) or a woe-is-me-I’m-a-horrible-teacher-or-my-students-are-just-so-dumb-or-the-test-was-just-too-hard response (if students scored at a 58% average), unit tests can serve an instructional purpose.

Now I know that teachers will be thinking, “We have to cover all these standards; we don’t have time to re-teach.” I’ll address this concern with a simplistic question that more than once has re-prioritized my own teaching. It really is an either-or question: Is teaching or learning more important?

For those who answer, learning, don’t add to your admirable burden by assessing what you won’t teach.

That’s it for now. The credits are rolling, but keep reading because the end of the credits may have a few surprises. Purchase your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview: DO analyze data with others   (drop your defenses). DON’T assess what you can’t teach. DO steal from others. DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous). Check it out HERE!

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I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

 

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ELA and Reading Assessments

English-Language Arts and Reading Assessments

Following are accurate and teachable diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading assessments and corresponding recording matrices to help teachers determine what students know and what they do not know. All but one assessment (fluency) are whole class assessments. Each assessment is comprehensive, not a random sample, to enable teachers to teach to the results of each test item. The author’s ELA/reading programs provide the resources for assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction. Click on the blue hyperlinks for the assessment resources.

Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment with Recording Matrix (Paper Copy) 

Use this 40 item assessment to determine student’s knowledge of parts of speech, subjects and predicates, types of sentences, fragments and run-ons, pronoun usage, modifiers, verb tenses and verb forms. The author’s one-volume Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides corresponding whole class lessons with grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction including sentence diagrams, mentor texts and formative assessments plus corresponding worksheets targeted to each item on the Grammar Assessment. Additionally, the author provides grade-leveled grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core aligned instruction in the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs. Each comprehensive program includes full year programs in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary with all the resources teachers need for effective direct and individualized instruction. Student workbooks and complete diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments are part of these programs.

Mechanics Assessment (Paper Copy) 

Use this 32 item assessment to test students’ ability to apply correct usage of commas, capitalization, and all other essential punctuation. The author’s one-volume Teaching Grammar and Mechanics provides corresponding whole class lessons with grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling instruction including sentence diagrams, mentor texts and formative assessments plus corresponding worksheets targeted to each item on the Mechanics Assessment. Additionally, the author provides grade-leveled grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Common Core aligned instruction in the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs. Each comprehensive program includes full year programs in grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary with all the resources teachers need for effective direct and individualized instruction. Student workbooks and complete diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments are part of these programs.

Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive diagnostic assessment to pinpoint all sound-spelling patterns learned from kindergarten through eighth grade. This 102 item eighth grade test pinpoints spelling deficits and equips the teacher to individualize instruction according to the assessment-data. The author’s Grades 4-8 Differentiated Spelling Instruction programs and the comprehensive Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs provide weekly spelling tests with spelling sorts, plus targeted worksheets to remediate each unknown assessment sound-spelling. Each worksheet includes a spelling sort and formative assessment.

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Awareness (Paper Copies) 

Use these five phonemic awareness (syllable awareness, syllable rhyming, phonemic isolation, phonemic blending, phonemic segmenting) and two awareness assessments (upper and lower case identification and application) to determine reading readiness. Each of the seven assessments is administered whole class. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding phonemic awareness and alphabetic awareness activities to remediate all deficits indicated by the assessments.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive 52 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of short vowels, long vowels, silent final e, vowel digraphs, vowel diphthongs, and r-controlled vowels. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any vowel sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment (Paper Copy) *

Use this comprehensive 50 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of consonant digraphs, beginning consonant blends, and ending consonant blends. The assessment uses nonsense words to test students’ knowledge of the sound-spellings to isolate the variable of sight word recognition. Unlike other phonics assessments, this assessment is not a random sample of phonics knowledge. The Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment includes every common sound-spelling. Thus, the results of the assessment permit targeted instruction in any consonant sound phonics deficits. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes corresponding worksheets and small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this assessment.

Sight Words (Outlaw Words) Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 99 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common non-phonetic English words. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program includes an Outlaw Words fluency article which uses all assessment sight words. The program also provides sight word game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Rimes (Word Families) Assessment (Paper Copy) 

Use this comprehensive 79 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common English rimes. Memorization and practice of these word families such as ack, eck, ick, ock, and uck can supplement an explicit and systematic phonics program, such as found in the author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Experienced reading teachers know that different students respond differently to reading instruction and some remedial students especially benefit from learning onsets (such as consonant blends) and rimes. The program includes small group activities to remediate all deficits indicated by this 15-minute assessment. The program also provides rimes game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

Sight Syllables Assessment (Paper Copy)

Use this 49 item whole class assessment to determine your students’ mastery of the most common Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes. Memorization and practice of these high utility affixes will assist with syllabication, spelling, and vocabulary development. The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program provides Greek and Latin prefix and suffix game card masters and individual sets of business card size game cards in the accompanying Reading and Spelling Game Cards.

The Pets Fluency Assessment (Paper Copy) *

The “Pets” expository fluency passage is leveled in a unique pyramid design: the first paragraph is at the first grade (Fleish-Kincaid) reading level; the second paragraph is at the second grade level; the third paragraph is at the third grade level; the fourth paragraph is at the fourth grade level; the fifth paragraph is at the fifth grade level; the sixth paragraph is at the sixth grade level; and the seventh paragraph is at the seventh grade level. Thus, the reader begins practice at an easier level to build confidence and then moves to more difficult academic language. As the student reads the fluency passage, the teacher will be able to note the reading levels at which the student has a high degree of accuracy and automaticity. Automaticity refers to the ability of the reader to read effortlessly without stumbling or sounding-out words. The 383 word passage permits the teacher to assess two-minute reading fluencies (a much better measurement than a one-minute timing).

* Placement Assessments

The author’s Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program includes 43 expository fluency articles (leveled in pyramid design from third to seventh grade reading levels) with word counts and timing charts. Two instructional options for fluency remediation are provided: small group choral reading and YouTube modeled readings at three different reading speeds. Corresponding vocabulary and comprehension worksheets are integral program components.

Spelling Patterns Assessment Matrix

Reading Assessments Recording Matrix

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out the Pennington Publishing Blog index of hundreds of useful ELA/reading articles and free resources to help teachers use assessment-based whole class and individualized instruction to maximize learning for each of their students.

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