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ELA and Reading Assessment as Instruction

Do's and Don'ts of ELA and Reading AssessmentsNotice how movie theaters have jumped on the rewards bandwagon? Yes, we earn points of our rewards card toward a free popcorn or soda. I’m all about the rewards, but we now have a desk drawer full cards.

However, for my Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments series, you “don’t need no stinkin’ card” (Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles) to get our FREE assessments, audio files, progress monitoring matrices, and lessons.

If you’ve missed one of the following got-to-see episodes, check it out after you watch this one.

  1. Episode 1
  • Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples. 
  • DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal. 
  • DO use diagnostic assessments. 
  • DON’T assess what you won’t teach.” 
  1. Episode 2
  • 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).
  1. Episode 3
  • DO analyze data both data deficits and mastery.
  • DON’T assess what you haven’t taught.
  • DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments.
  • DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.
  1. Episode 4
  • DO let diagnostic data do the talking. 
  • DON’T assume what students do and do not know. 
  • DO use objective data. 
  • DON’T trust teacher judgment alone.

Now, sit back in your plushy seat and enjoy the flick. In Episode 5 we are taking a look at the following:

DO think of assessment  as instruction. DON’T trust all assessment results. DO make students and parents your assessment partners. Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Wait ’til you download the featured assessment and matrix. It’s worth the wait.

DO think of assessment  as instruction. 

So often teachers view assessments as extraneous got-to’s, not as integral instructional components. I’ve heard, “I got into teaching to teach, not to assess” more times than I can count.

I kindly suggest that we should re-orient our thinking. No teacher would want to use an instructional resource that provided inaccurate information. No teacher would want to hand out a worksheet that her students had already completed. No teacher would want to waste time teaching something that her students already had mastered. Yet, teachers do so all the time when they have not assessed what students know and what they don’t know.

Diagnostic and formative assessments inform our instruction. No one would trust a doctor who would write a prescription without a diagnosis. Diagnosis is part of the exam. The same is true for teaching. Assessment is an integral component of instruction.

If they know it, they will show it; if they don’t they won’t. So don’t blow it; make ’em show it.

DON’T trust all assessment results. 

Even the best of doctors will suggest a second opinion. This is sound advice for teacher diagnosticians as well. Sometimes it makes sense to use an alternative assessment to double-check what students know and what they don’t know, especially when the results seem inconsistent with other data.

When I was in fifth grade, I was pulled out of class to be tested for the gifted program. The assessment consisted of a timed test of orally delivered questions. After the second or third question, I hit upon a strategy to give me more think time. After each oral question, I asked, “What?” I got the question again and had twice as long to answer the question. I don’t remember if I qualified for the program, but I do remember being referred to the audiologist for hearing loss.

When in doubt, double-check with a different assessment.

DO make students and parents your assessment partners. 

Test data shouldn’t be secret. Both students and parents need to know what is already known and what needs to be known. Most elementary teachers share some form of data at student-parent-teacher conferences, but secondary teachers rarely do so.

My suggestion is to share both diagnostic and formative assessment data on a regular basis with students and parents. Both are encouraged and motivated by progress. Share progress monitoring matrices with your partners.

Don’t go beyond the scope of your assessments.

Good assessments are limited assessments. They test specific concepts and skills, not general ones. Teachers over-reach when they try to make assessments walk on all fours. In other words, when teachers make assessments prescribe generalizations or treatments beyond the scopes of their applications.

For example, a student who fails to correctly punctuate an MLA citation on a unit test, may not need further instruction in what and what not to cite. Or a student who does not know when and when not to drop the final silent when adding on a suffix, may not need to practice reading silent final sound-spellings (the former is a spelling skills; the latter is a phonics skill).

Effective assessment-based instruction sticks to the limits of the assessment and does not generalize.

Glad you dropped by to watch Episode 5? Before you re-fill that unlimited re-fills popcorn on your way out, better grab your ticket for the next installment of ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 6. This once could sell out! Also get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview:

  1. DO use both diagnostic and formative assessments.
  2. DON’T assess to determine a generic problem.
  3. DO review mastered material often.
  4. DON’T solely assess grade-level Standards.


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

Get the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment, Audio File, and Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

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