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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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Trust Teachers, but Verify with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

Ronald Reagan, toward the end of the Cold War, was asked if he trusted the Soviets regarding their nuclear disarmament. He responded, “Trust, but verify.” Whether you liked him as president or not, his advice is relevant to teachers getting advice about students from their previous teachers.

As teachers, we pride ourselves on our intuitive judgments. Elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers learn the developmental characteristics and behaviors of our students through professional development and experience. As much as we preach not to “judge the book by its cover,” we do so on a daily basis in our classrooms. We have to. Teaching is informed decision-making and we face a myriad of decisions each day. We think “on our feet” all day long and learn to make quick decisions: When to be a “hard-nose” and when to show mercy; when to challenge and when to coddle; when to “tighten up” and when to “lighten up.”

The subjective decision-making described above is certainly a refined skill. We teachers do make mistakes. But, over time, we learn to trust our judgments and decision-making regarding the behavioral/affective management of the class and the interpersonal relationships and dynamics of the individuals in our classes. We learn to trust ourselves in the art of teaching.

Don’t Trust Yourself

However, we should be wary about being tempted to similarly trust ourselves regarding the science of teaching ELA and reading content and skills. Making instructional decisions based upon “what the students know and what they don’t know” requires objective data to inform our judgments. There are just too many variables to trust even the best teacher intuition: family situations, language, culture, school experience, just to name a few factors that limit our abilities to “go with our guts.” If we are honest, even veteran teachers are often fooled by sophisticated student coping mechanisms and cultural stereotypes. A gregarious boy with excellent oral language skills may be compensating for poor reading skills. A quiet Asian girl with good organizational skills who pays attention well may struggle with the academic vocabulary of the teacher. Only diagnostic ELA/reading assessments can eliminate subjectivity and objectively inform the science of teaching.

Don’t Trust Your Colleagues

Teaching is an independent practice. No matter how many years we have eaten lunch with our teacher peers, no matter how many conferences, department or grade-level meetings we have attended together, no matter how many of the same teaching resources we share, and no matter how specific our scope and sequences of instruction align, we cannot assume that the students of our colleagues have mastered the skills we are to build upon. Whether you are a fifth grade teacher, inheriting Ms. Nathan’s fourth grade class (along with all of her summative assessment data), or you are a high school English teacher picking up where a colleague left off at the end of the semester (with comprehensive writing portfolios), there is no substitute for doing your own diagnostic ELA/reading assessments.

Don’t Trust the Standardized Test Data

The content of the standardized ELA/reading test just can’t be trusted to help the teacher make  informed instructional decisions. The results of standardized tests provide “macro” data that can assess program quality or overall level of a student by using random sample questions to assess student proficiency or achievement. The data does not pinpoint the “micro” data of student strengths and weaknesses in the skills and content that teachers need to assess. Standardized tests are not designed for this purpose.

For example, the standards-based ELA/reading assessment in California lumps together data to classify individual students as Proficient, Advanced, Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic. These classifications do little to inform teacher instruction. Even using  item analyses of the data can only identify percentiles in such areas of “vocabulary in context.” Hardly helpful to specifically address individual student needs… Standardized tests do not provide  ELA/reading teachers with the data that they need to affect instructional change or differentiation. Diagnostic ELA/Reading assessments are designed for those tasks.

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable ELA and reading teachers to effectively differentiate instruction. Check out these free diagnostic ELA and reading assessments.

Over the years I have created, field-tested, and revised a battery of ELA/reading assessments that meet the criteria described above. You are welcome to download a comprehensive consonant and vowel phonics assessment, three sight word assessments, a spelling-pattern assessment, a multi-level fluency assessment, six phonemic awareness assessments, a grammar assessment, and a mechanics assessment free of charge from my website. Most of these assessments are multiple choice and are administered “whole class.” All have recording matrices to help the teacher plan for individual and small group instruction. Once, teachers administer these assessments and analyze the data, many will wish to purchase my teaching resources Teaching Grammar and MechanicsTEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE, and Teaching Reading Strategies to differentiate instruction precisely according to the data of these diagnostic assessments. Why re-invent the wheel?

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE for detailed product description and sample lessons.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Study Skills , , , , , ,