The “How”—Assessments to Inform Instruction
There are three types of assessments that teachers usually administer as a means to determine skill areas to focus on: screening, diagnostic, and progress monitoring.
Screening Assessments: Do We Already Have Some Information?
Teachers are frequently given screening data, such as from oral reading fluency assessments. ‘Universal screening’ assessments are common in school districts. A teacher can map each student’s data from the universal screeners onto Scarborough’s Rope to see if they can identify any subsets of skills under word identification and language comprehension that the student may need continued support with.
Next, the teacher has to ask:
- What more information do I need?
- For which students do I still have unanswered questions?
By asking these questions, the teacher can ensure that they are providing the best possible instruction for all of their students.
Diagnostic Assessments: What Questions Do We Still Have?
For students scoring below benchmark, questions that are not answered by the screening data can be answered by administering additional diagnostic assessments. A diagnostic assessment plan can ensure there are no questions left unanswered for students who have unfinished instruction in reading.
CORE’s Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures provides a collection of measures for comprehensively assessing reading-related skills. On Page 15, there is a Diagnostic Plan for Students in Grades 4-12. In this plan, there are five steps to determine the type of help a student needs to achieve strong reading comprehension:
This step starts with a standardized comprehension test such as a state assessment or the CORE Reading Maze Comprehension test,as recommended in the Diagnostic Plan. If students are at grade level as measured by the comprehension test, no further assessment is typically needed. Since the diagnostic plan provides a choice, it’s important to understand the differences between a reading maze test and a more traditional measure of comprehension that contains passage reading and multiple choice questions.
The purpose of a maze test is to measure lower-level comprehension processes. The items on the test are designed to determine how well students interpret single sentences and are designed to be easy to answer if the student has a basic idea of the gist of the passage. In contrast, state standardized assessments of comprehension are designed to measure comprehension of more complex passages that require high levels of background knowledge and language comprehension.
Asking what the test is actually assessing is as important as asking what you want to know. If the student scores low on a measure of comprehension, then going to the next step is important.
This step can include a placement assessment for a high quality intervention program appropriate for secondary students. The placement test should only be given to those students who did not meet grade-level benchmarks on the assessment administered in Step 1. These types of program assessments may offer valuable information into the specific skills mastered by a student and those that still require improvement. This assessment will also provide information if a student qualifies for instruction in the intervention program and where they should be placed to begin instruction.
Although the diagnostic plan chart offers an option, educators should also consider administering an Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) assessment and a vocabulary screening as part of this step.
- The ORF assessment measures a student’s ability to read aloud accurately and fluently. ORF scores can be used to identify students whose reading fluency may be below grade level.
- Vocabulary screening assesses a student’s knowledge of vocabulary words, which is an important predictor of reading comprehension.
The reason educators should consider these two additional assessments is that the information will help develop a more comprehensive instructional support plan.
If a student scores below grade level on the ORF assessment, teachers should administer the Phonics Survey in Step 3 to determine a student’s decoding proficiency before the vocabulary screening is given. The information on oral reading skills will guide the decision on whether to administer a vocabulary test silently or by reading it aloud to the student.
Step 3 is to administer a phonics survey, which measures a student’s ability to decode words. The survey is only given to older students if they are unable to read fluently at their grade level or if a program placement test indicates they lack decoding skills but doesn’t specify the skills.
When administering this survey with older students, start with multisyllabic words and progress to single-syllable word types at decreasing levels of difficulty until the student is successful at decoding the words. Pseudowords are also presented for each word type to ensure that the student can decode the word rather than having just memorized the words.
Step 4 is to assess phonemic awareness for older students who exhibit significant decoding skill deficits. Various measures can be used to assess proficiency in phonemic awareness. The teacher can select the most suitable assessment based on the student’s needs and abilities. (See grade level and purposes for the Phoneme Deletion Test and Phoneme Segmentation Test, pages 24 and 30, Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures). These measures will serve as an indicator of the student’s phonemic awareness skills. If an older student does not demonstrate phonemic awareness, it is important that the instruction provided addresses this.
Step 5 is to refer a student for specialized, more comprehensive assessment. This step is recommended if difficulties with phoneme manipulation are apparent. Poor decoding skills and lack of phonemic awareness at this stage in a student’s schooling could indicate learning difficulties that only a specialist can diagnose.