Effective Reading Assessment for Young Learners

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 our article on the essential characteristics of the best private schools, we 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.
    effective reading assessment
  • 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.

Do Traditional Assessment Methods Represent Effective Reading Assessment?

When it comes to reading in the early elementary grades, effective reading assessment can be complex and time-consuming.  Although several traditional testing methods are popular among elementary teachers, many of them share inefficient and ineffective qualities.  Some of the disadvantages listed here can disrupt the flow of reading instruction:

  • Fixed Reading Selections:  Student abilities within early elementary classrooms can vary greatly.  Therefore, a fixed level of reading expectation is unrealistic and irrelevant in an assessment.  Some students may find a given passage much too complicated and struggle to progress through the evaluation.  Others may find it too easy and get bored.  Therefore, an effective reading assessment must be dynamic and have the flexibility to adapt to unique student abilities.
  • Time-Consuming Data Collection:  Most reading programs recommend that students spend 80-90 minutes each day on literacy instruction in the early elementary grades.  It can be challenging to fit phonics, reading, writing, spelling, and English language arts into this time.  However, the essential nature of literacy skills makes it worth the investment.  Many traditional assessments require one-on-one time with the teacher collecting data by hand.  An efficient and effective reading assessment will preserve this precious instructional time.

A sample running record assessment (Notice how time-consuming this might be for a reading instructor)

  • Mixed Data Sources:  Often, more than one assessment is necessary to reveal information on the five essential reading skills mentioned earlier (phonological awareness, decoding ability, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension).  These additional tests not only consume more class time but also generate additional scores to consider.  An effective reading assessment should display data so that a complete understanding of achievement easily emerges.

Teachers need a practical way to collect data and construct an accurate analysis of student capabilities. Results should facilitate a profound understanding of unique strengths and weaknesses so teachers can make data-driven decisions.  This wisdom then allows educators to effectively differentiate their reading instruction for the individual needs of each child.

MAP Reading Fluency Supports Efficient & Effective Reading Assessment At Christian Life School

Although many traditional methods of reading assessment support the analysis of individual skills, a new option has emerged for educators.  Providing cutting-edge technology, MAP Reading Fluency consolidates several effective reading assessments into one package.

  • Unveils the Latest in Speech Recognition Technology:  As part of NWEA’s suite of diagnostic testing, MAP Reading Fluency represents the latest advancements in speech recognition.  The program enhances the technology in smartphones and voice-controlled speakers and recognizes the unique speech patterns of 4-8-year-old children.  It even accounts for early reading behaviors like self-corrections and line skipping.  The ground-breaking nature of this technology earned MAP Reading Fluency the 2018 CODiE Award for Best Student Assessment Solution.
  • Minimizes Time Investments:  While other assessments require significant time and staffing investments, students complete MAP Reading Fluency in approximately 20 minutes.  Plus, an entire classroom of students only requires a single teacher to administer the test.
  • Engages Students with a Lively Interface:  To begin, students log in to their MAP Reading Fluency account while wearing noise-canceling headsets with a boom microphone.  A brightly colored bookworm keeps the interest of these young learners and gives oral directions throughout the test.  Our students thoroughly enjoy interacting with the game-like nature of the program.  In fact, the assessment feels less like a test and more like a fun activity that draws out the student’s literacy skills.
  • Adaptability:  Where other assessments fail to support the unique needs of individual students, MAP Reading Fluency accommodates every reader.   Test items adjust in real time by changing the reading passages and questions based on the way the student responds.  If a student’s success on a given question/passage is too low, or too high, the next item adjusts accordingly.  This versatility allows each student to maintain a focus on the optimal instructional level for their individual needs.  Personal adaptations support our goal of finding instructional material that challenges our students without producing frustration or negative attitudes towards reading.
effective reading assessment

Detailed individual student results (Notice the increase in passage difficulty as the student demonstrates high levels of success)

(Check out 5 Things to Know About MAP Reading Fluency for more information)

Promoting Data-Driven Instructional Decisions

NWEA aligns this effective reading assessment to the volumes of reading research available.  When viewing both the question styles and data results, all five essential reading skills are apparent.  MAP Reading Fluency also displays data with attention to detail that enables an in-depth diagnostic review of each student.

Individual student data efficiently compiles and displays on a color-coded grid within minutes of finishing the 20-minute test session.  Some of the most notable and valuable results that illuminate individual student performance include:

  • Foundational Skills for Pre-Readers:  For a pre-reader, like many Kindergarteners, picture-based questions test skills like listening comprehension and vocabulary.  As the child progresses, questions require the identification of letters and sounds to assess phonological awareness.  The difficulty level rises with continued success.  Consequently, test items begin to require the substitution of letters in a given word to create a new word.  Further decoding abilities are put on display as students answer questions requiring them to create, spell, and read single syllable words.
  • Fluency:  If a student demonstrates the ability to read larger passages of text, they will read aloud into the boom microphone.  The program will adjust the difficulty level of these passages according to the reader’s abilities. Results include a recording of the reading session that teachers can access anytime with the ability to override and hand-score an assessment if needed.  Teachers also see fluency scores on words correct per minute and decoding accuracy.
  • Comprehension: A comprehension quiz appears at the end of each passage and serves to determine how well the student interprets the reading.  The program then considers the totality of test scores to determine an instructional reading level and reports the data as a Lexile score.

To support teachers in identifying student needs, a color-coded chart shows which students are below, approaching, meeting, or exceeding grade level expectations in all assessment categories.  The data is easy to read and produces an efficient picture of who needs additional attention and in which skills.  Less time is spent collecting and organizing data, giving teachers the opportunity to form a deep understanding of each student’s instructional needs.

effective reading assessment

Sample results for a classroom of students in MAP Reading Fluency (Notice the color-coding to simplify the display of expansive data. Blue = exceeding grade level expectations, Green = meets expectations, Yellow = approaching, and Red = below)

Mapping Growth for Students, Teachers, and Parents

Although MAP Reading Fluency offers an effective reading assessment for students, an additional feature puts this program over the top.  Not only do the results give detailed descriptions of each reader’s current capabilities, but teachers have access to tips and extensive resources that NWEA designs explicitly for the individual needs of the student.

effective reading assessment

While viewing any student’s data record, a link offers instructional strategies and activities.  These resources align to the particular set of strengths and weaknesses of the individual student.  Teachers can easily print these valuable practice materials that reinforce the next reading skills necessary to advance.  The strategies support teachers in individualizing instruction for the unique needs of every child.  Additionally, teachers can use these exercises to partner with parents.  Sharing these printable activities gives parents the resources they need to continue supporting their child’s reading education at home.

Finally, the growth opportunities continue as teachers gather together for professional development.  The research collected by the National Reading Panel and the U.S. Department of Education highlights the importance of collaboration.  As you can see in our article on the essential characteristics of the best schools,  Christian Life also prioritizes professional conversations.   As teachers share their analysis of student data along with best instructional practices, these teacher partnerships support the effective use of assessment data for the benefit of our students.

MAP Reading Fluency does not replace the countless hours our teachers spend working one-on-one with individual students.  Instead, the technology supports individualized instruction.  With the time saved, teachers and students can focus on the specific skills that will promote optimal growth for each young reader.  As assessment results continue to compile and follow our students year after year, students, teachers, and parents can celebrate the accomplishments of our kids as they grow in literacy skills.  With these strategies and the support of MAP Reading Fluency’s effective reading assessment, we will continually improve the landscape of reading instruction at Christian Life School.

For more information on the essential characteristics of the best schools, download our free eBook to help you make well-informed decisions for your student.