Teachers work to know their readers and writers through a series of formal and informal assessments. Having students respond to a prompt in writing or through drawing early in the school year directs a teacher’s attention to a class’ strengths, and using a similar prompt later in the year provides an opportunity to examine the growth of our writers. Listening to a second-grader read a few sentences, for example, during a reading conference or stopping to discuss a poem with a group of ninth-graders on the first day of school provides powerful information to our teachers. The information and artifacts that teachers gather in class serve as a powerful compliment to our formal assessments.
Descriptions of District Formal Reading Assessments
The School District of Clayton has adopted the Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST) as a universal screener for students in kindergarten through third grade. FAST provides a “suite” of assessments which helps teachers and specialists identify possible areas for improvement in foundational literacy skills.
The District employs the eReading component with K-2 students to assess skills such as concepts of print, phonemic awareness and fluency. Each student completes a series of subtests with a classroom teacher or reading specialist. This one-to-one assessment is designed to give a quick snapshot into a child’s strengths and weaknesses in specific skills related to literacy.
Third-grade students are assessed using the AUTOreading assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses in areas such as decoding, encoding, word identification and vocabulary skills. AUTOreading is a computer-based assessment; scores are based on the number of correct responses per minute.
The Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) serves as a screening tool for teachers and specialists in the School District of Clayton. The computer-adaptive assessment is untimed, but generally takes 20-30 minutes for a student to complete and is administered two times a year at the elementary level (grades 2-5) and one time at the secondary level (grades 6-10). Students read from excerpts of popular literature and periodicals - and sometimes curricular texts - and are given options for filling in the blank in the last statement. The score is reported as a number (a Lexile) which can be translated into grade-level performance. A strength of the SRI is the immediate feedback; classroom teachers have immediate access to a student’s SRI score as well as raw, stanine and percentile scores.
A reading inventory can serve as a powerful tool in helping teachers better understand their readers. A reading inventory is conducted one-on-one between a teacher and student. At the start of the inventory, a student reads aloud and the teacher performs a miscue analysis through a “running record,” looking for patterns related to omissions, repetitions, substitutions and insertions. Next, the teacher asks a series of retelling and comprehension questions to better understand the child’s understanding of the text. Teachers and specialists have access to a variety of reading inventories; currently, elementary teachers are using the Teachers College Benchmark Assessment and Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, middle school specialists are using the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA2) and high school specialists are using the Basic Reading Inventory.
While students in kindergarten and first grade do not take the SRI, teachers do use formal assessments twice a year. At the start of kindergarten, teachers assess a child’s understanding of concepts of print, the alphabet, letter identification and high-frequency words. At the end of kindergarten and at the start and end of first grade, teachers employ the Teachers College Benchmark Assessment.
It is important to note that we do not use the a single assessment to decide whether a student is below, at or above grade level in reading. We would, however, use a single test, such as the SRI, to decide on next steps. As a result of an SRI score, for example, we would encourage a student who has scored above grade level to select more sophisticated texts and then monitor his or her understanding through conferences. And, if a student scores below grade level, we continue our assessment through other objective tests. We know that one score on one day does not represent our readers. While it is tempting to use a child’s SRI score (or reading inventory score) to select books, we believe strongly in teaching our students to select appropriate books based on interest and by self-identifying how easy or difficult it is to read the book by previewing the first few pages. Book publishers do sometimes include the Lexile level or Guided Reading level of a book, but that score is a discrete score that may limit our readers. A child’s reading level is complex. It depends greatly on interest, background knowledge and motivation. Please do not hesitate to discuss book selection with your child’s teacher.
Additional Assessment Tools in Literacy
At the start and end of each school year, teachers at the elementary level administer qualitative spelling inventories from the Words Their Way assessment toolkit. Spelling inventories provide an opportunity for “feature analysis” to identify specific areas for instruction, such as short vowel sounds or consonant blends, needed by the whole class, small groups or by individual students.
Teachers use formal assessments in combination with informal assessments, including teacher-student conferences, monitoring of reading selection, and written assessments around specific texts and passages to seek further understanding of a reader or writer.
We have found that an element from The Next Step in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson provides a quick way to assess specific skills related to reading and writing: dictated sentence. For example, teachers in the first grade might dictate two sentences, making sure to include sight words covered in a lesson, and a specific phonics focus like digraphs. Examination of the child’s writing might point to a number of target skills including correctly adding ending to known words and hearing and recording short vowels.