What Is It?
Assessments play an essential role in helping teachers to guide students' growth as readers. Teachers have at their disposal a range of assessment tools that they can use to gather information about what their students have learned and what areas of reading to emphasize in class. Assessments range from informal classroom checks to commercially produced formal tests such as the Stanford Achievement Tests (SAT 9) and the New Standards Reference Exams (NSRE). The best forms of assessment are aligned with a set of standards so that each test item measures performance of a defined standard and can provide valuable information to teachers about their students' instructional needs. School, district, or national standards help teachers by providing a framework that defines clearly what students need to learn and when they need to learn it. When classroom instruction and assessments share the same standards and when teachers use assessment results to guide instruction, student learning is more likely to improve.
Effective teachers gauge students' instructional reading levels and plan ongoing instruction accordingly to promote growth in reading ability. A student's instructional reading level represents an optimal pairing of text difficulty with student ability, and it is indicated when a student reads with 95% accuracy in word recognition and answers roughly 75% of the comprehension questions correctly. As students progress, they continually outgrow their instructional levels and can tackle increasingly difficult text. Informal reading inventories and developmental reading assessments help teachers to determine each student's instructional reading level. Monitoring instructional reading levels can provide teachers with valuable information to guide text selection and to differentiate instruction.
In contrast to grade K-3 reading assessments, grade 4-6 informal classroom assessments usually emphasize student independence and reading for content information. As the amounts of assigned and self-selected reading increase, the individual reading conference becomes a critical way for the teacher to observe student progress. Teachers can also use student reading logs, response journals, or portfolios. With the emphasis in grades 4-6 on reading for information, effective teachers focus on assessing students' understanding and application of literacy strategies. Student-managed group assignments and collaborative efforts (including presentations, publications, and performances) are effective ways to demonstrate the use of literacy strategies. Assessments of student performance can involve well-constructed checklists and rubrics. With adequate modeling and scaffolding, intermediate-grade students are generally mature and self-sufficient enough to use rubrics to assess their own and their peers' work. Effective teachers balance the use of various assessment tools and use the results to tailor instruction to students' learning needs.
Implications for ELLs
Assessment procedures that are embedded in instruction can provide accurate information about how English Language Learners (ELLs) are progressing in the curriculum. These assessments highlight students' instructional needs and their accomplishments. Informal classroom-based assessment of comprehension offers a fuller picture of ELL readers, whose understandings are not always captured well by tests.
Periodic one-on-one reading conferences serve several purposes. First, they provide valuable experiences in which individual ELL students can interact with the teacher. Second, they are an opportunity for teachers to look for evidence that students understand what they read. It is important not to confuse a student's nonstandard grammar or accented speech with lack of comprehension. During conferences, teachers try to determine which comprehension strategies students are using and which strategies they need to learn to use. Effective teachers not only assess students' reading comprehension but also support comprehension through explanation, skillful questioning, and demonstration of reading strategies. Regular reading conferences enable teachers to pinpoint instructional needs for individuals as well as needs common to several students, and then to plan lessons to address these needs.
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
Reading aloud individually or in small groups can be a valuable experience for English language learners (ELLs). As ELLs read aloud, teachers make notes on students' miscues (misreadings) and on the strategies students use to "repair" (or reread and try to correct or clarify meaning). When necessary, teachers prompt students to use comprehension strategies such as rereading a sentence from the beginning, summarizing what has happened so far, predicting what the sentence might say, identifying and thinking about word parts, and looking for cognates (sister words across languages).
After ELLs finish reading, teachers ask them to retell or recall orally what they have read. For beginners, teachers may scaffold retelling with story picture cards, sentence strips, and incomplete sentences that students can finish. In cases where the teacher understands the student's home language, retelling in that language can serve as an excellent way to assess comprehension, as distinct from speaking ability. Teachers also ask ELLs comprehension questions at several levels of difficulty (e.g., literal, interpretive, generalizing, and personalizing).
Effective teachers make notes on what students do and do not understand, on what kinds of scaffolding and prompts students need in order to read and retell the story, and on students' vocabulary comprehension and word use. In reviewing their notes, teachers can determine which reading skills need strengthening and which prompts and scaffolds support comprehension. This information guides planning for future lessons that incorporate appropriate teaching strategies.
ELLs keep reading logs, recording information and reactions to the books that they have read. Teachers help students to keep reading logs by teaching, modeling, and practicing the use of graphic organizers in class.
ELLs may be unaccustomed to assessing their own comprehension. It is helpful when teachers and classmates model this process.
To model, teachers and classmates say things like:
Glimpse of the Classroom
It is the beginning of the school year, and Mrs. B.'s fourth-grade students are starting to keep individual response journals. Mrs. B. reviews with the class how the journal should include a date, book title, genre, and level of difficulty. The journal will become a simple portfolio of each student's reading progress throughout the school year.
Mrs. B. has written a letter to her students. It introduces the three kinds of connections for which they will look (text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world) and provides sample responses. Mrs. B. also reviews a rubric to use when writing a response to reading. The rubric provides a description of the desirable qualities for responding in writing: providing relevant evidence that makes a strong connection (to self, text, or world); expressing yourself and communicating ideas clearly; making few mistakes in writing conventions such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation; demonstrating self-awareness by expressing opinions and feelings; and following directions by responding to the teacher's questions or comments. Mrs. B. will respond in writing to each student's weekly journal entry.
When she first introduced her students to the daily 30-minute self-selected reading time, Mrs. B. announced that she would also hold 5-minute individual conferences. Today, as she conducts the conferences, she sometimes asks a student to read a favorite passage aloud, and she keeps running records, which is a system of coding that keeps track of how each student reads aloud. The students look comfortable with the routine that Mrs. B. has established around her conferences. During the conference with Candace, Mrs. B. asks questions from her teacher-made Story Element Cards. The questions on the cards have to do with genre, expository content, character, author, theme, mood, style, conflict, point of view, and the illustrations. Knowing what Mrs. B. wants her to focus on, Candace returns to her desk and begins her independent reading.
Questions to Think About