Sitting on the hallway floor with reading assessment materials on my lap and first-grader Erick on my right, I lean down a bit to better hear his reading of the text. My pencil moves across the page to mark his reading of the assessment passage on the running record form I would later assess to determine his reading level for this quarter. Erick is one of the more advanced readers in our class, reading at a midyear second grade level by early spring of first grade.
In response to my question on how the character in the story responds to challenges, he thumbs through the pages looking for text evidence to support his claim that the character had responded with jealousy. After a few moments, Erick excitedly recites the character’s quote and flashes me his huge smile. I return the smile and he dives right back into the text to answer my next question.
Glancing at my phone, I notice we had been in the hallway for 16 minutes already, and we needed to head back inside for snack time, but Erick isn’t quite finished yet.
I loved the one-on-one time with students to assess their reading progress, but it was quite time-consuming. And I was lucky enough to have a co-teacher with whom to split this responsibility! Between my co-teacher and me, assessing our entire class’s reading progress took about two weeks. We assessed during reading group rotations, during preps, while one of us was lead teaching a content area, or at any other free moments we had.
But unfortunately, reading assessment often came at the expense of literary instructional time. Even if you have a co-teacher or helpful administrators who pitch in, instruction must pause, in some fashion, to complete reading assessments.
With time already a scarce resource for educators, it’s a constant balance between obtaining a comprehensive picture of students’ reading (which takes time) and the need to maintain the flow of instruction so as not to fall behind. Sometimes, the need to move quickly prevents us from getting a complete picture of all our readers, not because we think knowing our readers’ rate, accuracy, prosody, and comprehension lacks value—we know all those measures are crucial—but because time is not on our side. It’s clear that we need a new – and smarter – approach to oral reading fluency assessment that enables us to assess efficiently, without losing the focus on comprehension.
NWEA understood this tension and created a new reading assessment, MAP Reading Fluency, in response. MAP Reading Fluency enables teachers to assess all of their readers at once, in about 20 minutes, using speech-scoring technology and a computer adaptive design. In addition to fluency, the test measures foundational skills and reading comprehension across multiple passages to provide teachers with actionable data and a recording of students’ reading—and gives teachers the gift of time.
While I am no longer in the classroom teaching, I know this product would have increased testing efficiency and the depth of data I needed to better meet my students’ needs. Hearing a recording of herself reading would have helped another student of ours, Heaven, meet her goal of “reading the way she talked,” which was our student-friendly way to describe increasing fluency. Also, having parents listen to a recording of their child reading would have been a powerful tool to play to help bridge the gap between the classroom and home.
There isn’t anything more critical in a child’s education than learning to read in those first couple of years of schooling. Yet traditional oral reading assessment is based on a time-consuming, 30-year-old method, which frustrates teachers and disrupts learning time. It is time for a better approach – one that is fun and engages kids, adapts to the needs of every child, and gives teachers back valuable instructional time, so that they can spend less time screening and more time teaching.