Growth both ways: How can you assess the two types of growth in early literacy?

Growth Both Ways: How Can You Assess the Two Types of Growth in Early Literacy? - TLG-IMG-04112019

At NWEA, we measure growth. Most of our partners know us for the MAP® Growth™ test, where overall growth is gauged by a RIT score on a continuous scale. But in early reading, we have an additional way of measuring growth, in the MAP® Reading Fluency™ assessment. Why two? Which should a partner use when – and why might some use both?

In early literacy, all kinds of growth are going on. Kids are learning the names and sounds of letters. They are developing phoneme-level sound awareness. And they are gaining vocabulary, oral language comprehension, and reading comprehension skills.

Some of those skills are the kind that grow fast for a bit, but then reach mastery.  There are 26 letters to name, and no more. Some of those skills really matter in some stages, but then fade to the background. Hearing separate sounds – phonemes – is critical when kids are starting to sound out words letter by letter, but it isn’t what needs to keep growing once kids have some more automatic word recognition.  Both letter naming and phonological awareness are constrained skills, as Scott Paris (2005) explained.

Meanwhile, some growth is happening that is unconstrained. Vocabulary, language comprehension, and reading comprehension all grow and grow straight up through adulthood. They grow even before kids can read words and sentences, both from conversations and from books read aloud to kids. Check this blog for more on the difference between growth on constrained skills and growth on unconstrained skills.

Where are these constrained and unconstrained skills in our state learning standards?

Typically, the foundational reading standards focus on constrained skills that kids can master. Those standards include pieces (think print concepts or phonological awareness) that are only present in the primary grades, because the expectation is that they are gradually mastered. As another blog discussed, these foundational skills eventually get cooked into the sauce of independent reading.

But then there are the ongoing reading comprehension standards—those college and career readiness standards that tie to “anchor standards” and run from K to 12. These are about understanding the meaning and structure of texts. These unconstrained, long-growing skills aren’t just in the standards after foundational skills; in the primary grades, they are in there simultaneously. Even before kids can read independently, they are expected to build meaning-making skills.

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MAP Suite assessments for each purpose

MAP Reading Fluency is designed to focus on foundational skills and early reading fluency. It locates which skills are growing now, tracking development toward that independent reading that later grades will assume. MAP Reading Fluency does not assess any of the “anchor” standards in reading comprehension. Instead, it focuses on the foundational reading standards. The focus differs for each student: for some, growth now is on sounding out simple words, while others have moved on to developing fluency. With constrained skills, you can’t keep looking at the same skill indefinitely to find growth – you have to move with the child.

MAP Growth Reading is designed to track overall growth in reading, from kindergarten to grade 12. It has a strong focus on the “anchor” standards in reading comprehension, right from the start. For the youngest students, MAP Growth Reading can gauge growth on those standards even before kids are reading independently, by reading text aloud to kids. While many foundational skills are also included, the focus of MAP Growth Reading is on growth in overall reading proficiency over time on a stable interval scale.

When might I use both? Ultimately, our goal is for students to “graduate” from MAP Reading Fluency, demonstrating that they have moved beyond those more constrained skills and that they can read grade level passages with fluency and understanding. For students still learning to read, though, a fuller picture of reading development comes from tracking both kinds of growth.

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