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Re-thinking Reading Assessment

The pandemic effectively suspended the implementation of standards-based summative reading assessments, and most teachers did not shed any tears. However, the anti-testing movement tends to broad-brush the full range of assessments and undermine the application of assessment-based instruction. All testing is not equal, and as a reading specialist, my fear is that we may be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

In “3 Reasons We’re Still Using Outdated Assessments,” the author analyzes the multi-faceted roles of educational assessments.

Key quote from article: “We need to know where students are so we can get them where they need to be. Rather than centering instruction around assessments that occur at the end of the learning cycle, assessments should inform the teaching and learning process every step of the way.”

Essentially, the author argues that CCSS and state standards benchmarks should serve as our primary assessments.  I take issue with this conclusion. While helpful for formative assessment, these benchmark assessments don’t produce the diagnostic data needed to inform initial instruction.

Pardon the silly cooking comparison:

Summative assessments are like comparing Mom’s fresh out of the oven cornbread to a neighbor’s. We can taste which is better, but we can’t isolate the variables to determine why Mom’s is better.

Formative benchmark assessments check the ratios of water to corn meal to added sugar; they check how well the cornbread is browning; and they use the toothpick to determine if the center is fully cooked. All necessary to check, and we can determine which steps were mastered and which were not, but checking off each step of the cooking directions is only the process, not the content of the cooking.

Diagnostic assessments provide the content i.e., the recipe. We need to know the list of ingredients that Mom uses for her award-winning cornbread. But that’s not enough. We also must compare what’s in the kitchen cabinet to that list. Even if Mom’s doing the cooking, the cornbread won’t be up to her standards if she leaves out or ignores key ingredients in her recipe.

Perhaps all three layers of assessment have value, but of the three, it’s the diagnostic recipe most impacts the finished product: informed, targeted instruction and efficient learning.

Here’s my recipe for ELA and reading teachers i.e., free diagnostic reading, spelling, and grammar assessments: https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/reading-and-spelling-assessments-2/

The author, Mark Pennington, creates assessment-based curriculum. Check out programs at Pennington Publishing.


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