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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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