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Reading Assessment | Don’t Test What You Can’t Teach

Don't Test Reading Comprehension

Don’t Test What You Can’t Teach

Teachers got into this business to teach, not to test. However, teachers do see instruction as a product of good assessments. Check out my criteria for good reading assessments in this article: RtI Reading Tests and Resources.

Assessment-based instruction certainly makes sense in reading intervention and in ESL/ELD classes. But which tests don’t make sense?

The tests that don’t assess what is teachable.

As an M.A. reading specialist and educational author, I get reading assessments questions quite frequently. Believe me, regarding reading assessments, I’ve been there and done that—from the old tried and true up to and including the latest and greatest. I, like most teachers, want to apply science to the art of teaching. Assessments can be useful tools of the trade. But, not all assessments.

Just received this email from an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher:

Dear and Highly Respected Sir/Madam,

Hope you will be in the best status of health and peace; both mental and physical. I m quite curious regarding teaching reading and reading assessment K -5. Here, in my country, things for teachers are not innovative, interactive and communicative. 

As I am teacher of English and working on reading assessment during these years, I really need some material, I will be very thankful and obliged if you provide me some material regarding reading assessment.

  1. School wide Reading Assessment Plan (it should include action plan for all formative and summative terminal and annual plan that can be applied to a country having English as a second language)
  2. Model Formative k – 5 reading assessment sheets (which can be used during formative and summative assessment of reading
  3. Modal Summative K-5 reading assessment sheets (which can be used on the occasion of annual assessment)
  4. Literature regarding one – on – one oral and written K-5 reading assessment
  5. Literature regarding the whole class K – 5 reading assessment

This will be a great service to humanity from your side.

Following is my response:

Greetings,

I offer free diagnostic reading assessments for children ages 8-18: four of which should be used as schoolwide placement assessments. They are asterisked (*). Download at https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/pennington-publishing-elareading-assessments/

Recording matrices and audio files are included. The diagnostic assessments are perfectly appropriate to be used as summative assessments, as well.

The formative assessments are included in my comprehensive https://penningtonpublishing.com/collections/reading/products/teaching-reading-strategies-sam-and-friends-phonics-books-bundle Perfect for English as a second language.

Regarding assessment articles: Some included in https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/free-response-to-intervention-rti-resources/

Overall, my advice is the following:

  1. Screen all grades 3-5 readers with the asterisked assessments.
  2. Administer the rest of the whole-class assessments to the struggling readers identified in the screening (program placement) assessments.
  3. Avoid time-consuming individual assessments, except the individual reading fluency assessment.

I would express a few caveats to this last recommendation:

  • If the teacher notices repeated word reversals, repeated line-skipping, or herky-jerky eye movements during the reading fluency assessment, I would recommend referral to a certificated vision therapy optometrist or ophthalmologist. Poor tracking can be re-trained.
  • If the teacher notices hearing impairment or speech impediments or reads about chronic ear inflections in the student’s cumulative file, I would recommend referral to a physician and speech therapist. If the teacher notices any cognitive challenges, such as inability to follow simple directions or lack of short term memory, I would refer to a special education teacher for testing.
  • If a teacher notices significant discrepancies among the diagnostic results, such as the inability to blend and segment (in the phonemic awareness assessments), but mastery of the sight word and sight syllable assessments, I would recommend additional assessments to confirm a reading diagnosis: in this case probably no understanding of the alphabetic principle, but exclusive “look-say” sight word learning.

One further note: I do not recommend individual reading comprehension testing. Check out my article titled “Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension.” Having administered many of these tests over the years, I have yet to see the value of such tests. The tests, which can indicate approximate grade or Lexile levels can only do just that. Using running records or simple word recognition counts can provide the same data and determine which book levels are appropriate for instructional and independent reading. Read my article on “How to Determine Reading Levels.

Additionally, reading comprehension test questions cannot isolate the variables to the degree necessary to remediate with specific strategies. For example, a test item following a reading passage which states, “In lines 32 and 33 the author suggests that…” none of the multiple-choice answers, nor any reader response, can differentiate among these reading skills: main idea, inference, or drawing a conclusion.

According to Daniel Willingham, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Virginia, such reading strategies as “tricks,” and “short-cuts” to comprehension. Check out his Washington Post article. I would agree to some extent and suggest that testing for mastery of these discrete reading strategies is inadvisable—we can’t pinpoint exactly which reading skill is being tested by reading comprehension questions. Thus, the instructional utility of the reading comprehension assessments is quite limited. My suggestion? If you can’t teach to it; don’t test to it.

This is not to say that teachers should not be teaching reading comprehension strategies—they should. Even if they are “tricks” to

Test Only What You Can Teach

Only Assess What is Teachable

understanding as Willingham argues; however, these strategies are qualitatively different than other reading skills. Reading skills, such as phonics, are instructional necessities. Reading comprehension is what reading is all about. However, given the always present challenges of time and expense, focus on using the assessments that are teachable.

In short, my advice is twofold: Only Assess What is Teachable and Don’t Test What You Can’t Teach.

 

 


 

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

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Should We Teach Standards or Children?

As a teacher, I am reminded ad nauseam to “teach the Common Core State Standards.” Since I am a reading specialist, hiding inside the Trojan horse of English-language Arts in an underperforming middle school, I quietly administer reading, spelling, grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments to my students. It won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the diagnostic data indicate that some students have severe reading and spelling deficits.

Here then is the crux of the issue. The underlying pre-suppositions, results, and practice of standards-based instruction can be diametrically opposed to assessment-based instruction, according to the diagnostic needs of our children. This is especially true in the field of reading instruction.

The underlying pre-suppositions of the standards-based movement accept a priori that education is solely a behavioral science. We critics of this assumption would argue that much of teaching, learning, and parenting is culturally-bound and intuitive. In other words, some of effective teaching is truly an art form. We critics are not above using the scientific method and learning theory to debunk the behavioral purists. For example, the standards-based-movement begs the vital question regarding its linear scope and sequence of grade level standards: Do we really learn that way? Many teachers in my fields of English-language Arts and reading would argue the contrary. In fact, anyone who has taught the basic parts of speech to sophomores in high school won’t be surprised to learn that excellent teachers from elementary school-to middle school-to last year’s freshman class taught the same parts of speech. In other words, some learning may be recursive, not linear. Teachers, students, and parents are the critical variables here. The Common Core writers recognize this recursive element and have included the Progressive Skills Review within the Language Strand to address this instructional issue.

As is frequently the case in education, an idea takes on a life of its own in practice. A conversation a few years back with a fellow English teacher was instructive, but chilling. In discussing the results of our informal reading assessments, he looked over the clearly demonstrated reading deficits in his testing data and then said, “I teach the grade level standards. I’m not paid to go back and teach everything that the students don’t know.” He accepted a job as an administrator in our district the next year. Now, I am not over-critical of administrators… They are held accountable to implement standards-based instruction and to increase the all-important state and/or district standards-based test scores. However, administrators have got to do better than the principal who refused to implement reading intervention programs at her under-performing school because “The elementary teachers are supposed to teach reading; that’s their job, not ours. We teach the middle school Common Core State Standards here.” Of course, the principal certainly needs to read the appendices of the Common Core Standards which recognize the need for assessment-based instruction.

It’s easy to whine at the devolution of academic freedom and the sorry state of education that has been relegated to a series of standards-based grade level scope and sequence charts, with benchmarks or task analyses tacked on to provide the pretense of specificity. It’s harder to offer solutions, but here are a few thoughts.

True educators need to teach both Standards and children.

1. Do teach the grade level Common Core State Standards. Really. However, control the time allotted to teaching these standards and insist on your academic freedom here. When challenged as to why you are teaching a lesson or skill that is not explicitly listed as a grade level Standard, cite previous or advanced grade level standards that address your remedial or advanced grade level instruction.

2. Patiently argue that some students need to “catch up, to keep up.” Justify concurrent remediation or acceleration and grade level instruction by citing diagnostic data. Let data plead your case. For example, if instructed not to teach to diagnosed deficits, ask the principal/district supervisor to write a letter to the parents of students to alleviate you of this responsibility, against your informed judgment. They won’t, but they won’t bother you for awhile.

3. Explain that that any criticism is not about really about what you teach, but rather about how you teach. You are scaffolding instruction, according to the demonstrated diagnostic needs of your students in order to teach the grade level standards. That’s why assessment-based instruction is so critical. You are making the standards comprehensible and in order to do so, you must differentiate instruction. How you teach is a matter of academic freedom.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

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