Selecting Appropriate Literacy Assessments for Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Assessment is a crucial aspect of literacy instruction, but choosing the right assessment makes all the difference. This lesson will cover how to select appropriate assessments for students.

Why Assessment Selection Matters

Mrs. Newhall has been teaching second grade for three years now, and she understands the importance of assessment in literacy instruction. Each year, Mrs. Newhall uses a general assessment mandated by her district to gauge the reading levels of the students in her class. The assessment results are helpful in a general way; using them, she can form solid guided reading groups, talk with families about students' strengths and struggles, and help match students with appropriate books for independent reading.

Yet Mrs. Newhall is also starting to understand the limitations of a general assessment. She often finds that after receiving the results, she still is not sure where best to go next in instructing an individual student. Mrs. Newhall does some research, and she learns that there are specific assessments or even parts of assessments that she might use in order to learn where exactly her instruction might benefit a student most.

The right assessment gives you a chance to get to know your students well.

Assessing Decoding

Mrs. Newhall learns more about the assessment of decoding. She knows that decoding is the aspect of reading that involves literally reading the words on a page. Mrs. Newhall learns that having students read leveled word lists out of context will give her a great deal of information on their ability to decode without having to rely on meaning-based cues like pictures or story contexts. Reading nonsense words, composed of plausible letter or syllable combinations, can also be a great way to find out how students are doing on their decoding. Mrs. Newhall learns that there are decoding skills assessments focused particularly on whether students can read unfamiliar polysyllabic words, consonant blends and digraphs, and words with irregular spelling patterns, for example. Once she sees where a student is struggling, she can cater her instruction explicitly to meet this student's needs.

Mrs. Newhall also learns that part of assessing decoding has to do with testing students' knowledge of age-appropriate sight words. Yet another decoding assessment involves taking an oral running record in which Mrs. Newhall makes notes about the student's miscues, or oral reading errors. Mrs. Newhall learns that running records are very helpful in determining students' instructional and independent levels.

Assessing Fluency

Mrs. Newhall knows that sometimes she teaches students who seem to have solid decoding skills, but when they read, they sound like robots. For these students, she feels it is important to assess their fluency, or their reading rate and expression.

Timed Readings. With students where she is concerned about their pacing, Mrs. Newhall chooses assessments that allow her to time both oral and silent reading. She keeps track of how long it takes these students to read a page, and this way she can gauge their improvement over time and give them chances to practice their own pacing.

Informal Assessment of Expression. For some students, expression is more of a concern than pacing. In these cases, Mrs. Newhall finds informal assessments the most helpful. She takes detailed notes when these students read aloud, attempting to get at exactly what aspect of their reading is causing them to struggle with expression. Mrs. Newhall's notes might help her understand, for instance, that a student needs more instruction in how to orally read punctuation, or she might learn that a student can read fiction with expression but needs more help with nonfiction texts.

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