Measuring Early Reading: Why Anchor Standards and Foundational Skills are Both Important

Measuring Early Reading: Why Anchor Standards and Foundational Skills are Both Important - TLG-IMG-09202018

Maybe it’s because my son has now reached my own height (which is insane). I find myself staring now and then at the doorway out of my kitchen, where all these little height marks on the doorjamb are labeled with a name and a date. I can see that year when he sprouted up a ton in the four months between his birthday and the start of the school year. And – almost too much to bear—I can see how tall he was at age 15 months.

There are some things from back then that I can’t see on the doorjamb. I can’t see just when he first spoke in full sentences, or when he first spent the night in big boy underpants. But those sure mattered a lot for how we adapted our parenting focus, while they were happening.

How do we measure these milestones, and what kinds of growth do we capture? It’s a critical question in early literacy, too.

Early Literacy in the MAP Suite

We designed our MAP Suite of assessments in early literacy to handle a parallel reality, around measuring what matters in these developmental years. You can see this reality reflected in the nature of reading standards. In most state standards, there are some “anchor” reading standards that span the entire K–12 space, that build upon each other as kids progress in facets of reading comprehension and vocabulary. Measuring those works on a continuous scale – like a doorjamb.

In the MAP Suite, the doorjamb is our RIT scale, continuous from K through 12 in Reading. The tool that makes those height marks is MAP Growth. Even before kids can read independently, they are making progress we can measure on these standards. When a teacher reads a story aloud to her students, she is still asking them to start comparing characters or noticing cause and effect relationships. With MAP Growth K-2, audio support lets us assess reading comprehension even before kids can decode words and sentences.

But state reading standards also include those shorter-lived standards, often called Foundational Skills. These include pieces that are, well, foundational while they matter, but then disappear altogether from the standards by late elementary grades.

MAP Suite - Reading

This can be confusing: if they are so foundational, then why don’t we keep measuring them?

At some point, those skills no longer matter to measure in direct, skill by skill fashion, because they have gotten cooked into the overall sauce of reading with comprehension. When you read to understand, you draw upon every “foundational” skill you’ve got in decoding words, plus everything you’ve got that supports language comprehension. It’s like the old spaghetti sauce commercial used to say: when you read with understanding, “It’s in there.”

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But in early literacy, there might not be spaghetti sauce yet at all. There might still be tomatoes sitting there on the counter, hopefully ripe and ready to hop in the pot, but sometimes a little firm or half green. And the garlic: maybe it’s all minced and ready, but then maybe it’s not even peeled yet. When kids are still learning what sounds the letters make, they’re going to need a bit more prep time before we can expect to see any signs of marinara.

MAP Reading Fluency is all about looking at each piece, or ingredient, before there’s full-on red sauce, and giving instructionally useful data on each. Tomatoes: think phonics and word recognition, as an ingredient. Garlic: maybe phonological awareness. And oral reading fluency—that’s the heat and alchemy where the ingredients are first starting to cook down into a unitary thing, called reading with understanding. MAP Reading Fluency doesn’t track progress through those K–12 reading comprehension anchor standards; instead, it captures learning to read, where several discrete pieces are still in the process of coming together.

Growth that fits on a scale like the doorjamb matters. It lets you see growth globally, make comparisons from one season to another, and see progress toward benchmarks (like Mom’s height, or scores that predict state test proficiency).

At the same time, in the earliest years, some of the growth that really influences what you are doing now as a teacher – or as a parent – can be about shorter progressions. There can be several at one time, including ones that you aren’t going to track for very long.

This is why we designed the MAP Suite to include both MAP Growth and MAP Reading Fluency, to measure all of what matters in early literacy development.

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