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Purpose of Reading Assessments

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Assessments are an important part of instruction. Teachers use them for many reasons and using the right ones at the right time is a useful teaching skill. This lesson will outline types of reading assessments and when and why we use them.

What is Reading Instruction?

Learning to read is a big job that starts with making sounds and ends, well, never really; even adults continue to learn things about reading. However, the bulk of intentional reading instruction begins in preschool or kindergarten, when students are taught about letter sounds and symbols. After children understand the basics of sound/symbol relationships they move on to decoding text, or putting letter sounds together to make words. We start to become fluent readers, or able to read at a good, steady pace with an engaging voice, only after we're confident sight-readers, usually between third and fifth grade. From that point on, teachers focus reading instruction on helping readers become more fluent and, more importantly, understanding what they read, or comprehension.

How do teachers know what to teach and when to teach it? In addition to a reading curriculum, they actually rely on assessments for this purpose, among other reasons.

Assessment Basics

When we use the word assessment in education, we're talking about a method used to determine students' understanding of a skill or concept. They're sometimes also referred to as tests. We're tested in many ways in our lifetime; from reading out loud to a teacher in elementary school to navigating a road test to get our driver's license, assessments are just a part of life.

There are two main types of assessments teachers use. See if you can figure out which kind is used while reading with a teacher and which is used during a road test.

Formative assessments are used to determine whether or not a student is progressing in a subject or topic. The important thing to remember about formative assessments is that they are not meant to be a grade, but rather a measurement, or monitoring, of understanding. We'll get into this more in a bit. Summative assessments are used as a final measure of comprehension and understanding of a subject or topic. In other words, these tests are given at the end of instruction, after a student has had enough time to practice and learn.

If you guessed that reading with a teacher is formative and a driver's test is summative, you're right! Nice job. Let's go ahead and talk about how and why we use assessments when teaching reading.

Purpose of Reading Assessments

Assessments are vital tools for reading teachers as they navigate reading instruction. While overarching themes and skills can be taught to a group of children at the same time, such as letter sounds or main idea, the fact is that each individual child is unique and will therefore learn at different pace.

Reading assessments help educators on a day-to-day basis. Knowing a child's specific abilities allows a teacher to place students in appropriate reading groups and create center work that promotes specific skill development. Continued informal assessments allow for flexible movement within these instructional groups as students progress and their needs change.

Assessments also give teachers information about which students are in need of additional help; perhaps requiring interventions if the child is lacking basic skills, or further screenings to see if a child has special needs, such as dyslexia.

Screenings are often administered at the beginning of the year or if a teacher suspects a student is struggling. These are neither formative nor summative, but rather a parallel group that is solely used to measure a student's performance to determine a skill level. Sometimes screenings result in children receiving extra help. Some teachers use screening assessments in reading for all students at the beginning of the year to see where students are in their reading development.

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