If you’ve ever stepped into an early elementary classroom, you know that energy radiates from young learners. Kids love exploring the world around them and delight in opportunities to learn new things. Reading, in particular, is one of those skills that students are incredibly eager to possess. Our elementary teachers carry the enormous responsibility of harnessing the enthusiasm of this unique medley of students. Their assignment: funnel the excitement into valuable learning experiences. With this mission, effective reading assessment is essential in developing successful young readers.
Why are early reading skills so important?
At Christian Life School, we do not take this responsibility lightly. Our teachers continually monitor the research on reading instruction with special attention given to the foundational skills students acquire in early elementary. In a National Reading Panel report published by Learning Point Associates, research indicates that if a student isn’t reading successfully by the end of 4th grade, it’s unlikely that this student will ever become a solid reader. At Christian Life, we aim to support our educators as they strive to cultivate reading proficiency in our young learners. (You can download the national research summary report from Eric.)
Which skills should we evaluate in effective reading assessment?
In an article on the essential characteristics of the best schools, educators recognize the importance of using assessment strategically to monitor progress and communicate achievements. The U.S. Department of Education continues to support ongoing research in effective reading assessment and instruction. Some of the most recent and notable initiatives include Reading First and the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program. Over the decades of literacy investigations, common threads appear in the research, and many educators now draw on these findings to define best practices in reading instruction.
The studies agree on five essential components of effective reading instruction:
- Phonological Awareness: This precursor skill requires students to know the sounds connected to letters and letter combinations. Once mastered, learners understand that words generate from these combinations.
- Phonics Decoding: Decoding refers to a student’s ability to “sound-out” a word using their knowledge of letters and sounds. At first, a reader may produce the sounds in c-a-t. However, many challenging words are still decodable with phonics skills. Therefore, early mastery of decoding benefits advanced readers, as well.
- Vocabulary: To read and understand a passage, students must have experience with the vocabulary. This skill builds on a child’s ability to connect words to what they represent in our world and language.
- Reading Fluency: Often gained through sustained practice, this phrase represents a reader’s ability to move swiftly through a passage. Fluency goals include accuracy and expression in reading.
- Comprehension: Reading comprehension signifies a reader’s ability to acquire meaning and understanding through a text. Without comprehension, the purpose of reading is lost.
(The K12 Reader article titled “The Five Essential Components of Reading,” summarizes these reading skills in more detail.)
Reading research also emphasizes the importance of a valid and effective reading assessment, including:
- Screening: Using passages written for the student’s actual grade level, these assessments screen for potential risks or reading difficulties.
- Diagnostic: These assessments use reading passages at the child’s “instructional level.” Whether or not the reader meets grade-level expectations, the passages offer text difficulty that is challenging, but manageable. These assessments dig deeper into the child’s skills to diagnose the causes of any reading difficulties.
- Formative: Often called “Assessments FOR Learning,” formative assessments exist to monitor progress and generate feedback. This feedback is beneficial to the student, teacher, and parent.
- Summative: Known as “Assessments OF Learning,” summative assessments evaluate a student’s mastery of the learning. These often occur at the end of a unit of study.
(You can download more information on effective reading assessment from the Florida Center for Reading Research and Reading Rockets.)
Each of these assessments strives to uncover the individual strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the reader. Once specific needs emerge, the teacher can then differentiate their instructional time to address these distinctions. By adjusting activities, small groups, and assignments, every child receives a perfect-fit education. Further assessment allows the teacher to continue monitoring student progress and the effectiveness of these instructional strategies. Ultimately, teachers aim to personalize instruction and assessment, so every student receives the experiences they need to maximize achievement.
In my next post, we will explore whether or not traditional assessment methods represent effective reading assessment. Stay tuned!
Carrie Wright is the Curriculum and Instruction Director at Christian Life School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She is a guest blogger for a two-blog series on effective reading assessment from the perspective of a current educator. This article originally appeared on her school blog here.