Literacy Assessment FAQ - Question 1: Which assessment should we use?

This is part 1 to a 4 part blog series focusing on literacy assessment. Over the years I’ve noticed that wherever I go either within, or out of province, the questions are universal. This blog will focus on the first question I’m frequently asked, and that is “Which Assessment Should I Use”?

My answer to this question has remained the same throughout the years. Although I’ve continued to develop my own professional learning around assessment, my answer has not changed. My response is always, “It depends, what do you want to assess?” While as frustrating as this response may be, especially if you’re looking for “the one” assessment, there is no consistent answer. Literacy is complex, with many components, and one score from one assessment will not address this.

Usually, I come back with a follow up question or two to probe a little further and help unearth what exactly is the intention of the assessment. I’ll often ask “Do you want to assess vocabulary, or reading rate, high frequency words or comprehension?” “Do you want to observe a student’s reading behaviour and analyze their errors in order to gather qualitative information to inform instruction?” Depending on what you want to know, and more importantly what you plan on doing with the information once you know, will help guide you to finding an assessment which will best meet your needs.

Some assessments are best performed at intervals in the school year, such as benchmark assessments. A benchmark is a standard against which to measure something. If you administer a benchmark assessment you would have a measure of where students are against the larger population. This assessment would not be administered repeatedly throughout the year likely only in fall and spring, perhaps with a touch in during winter for students who are significantly below the benchmark so you can keep a closer eye on their growth. Always remember time spent assessing is time not spent on instructing. While taking the time to administer a benchmark assessment at identified intervals during the year is a valuable use of time, you would want to make sure you are not spending additional time re-administering the benchmark assessment just to see if the student has grown.

Other assessments are ongoing, or continuous. They could be teacher made, quick probes or sitting side by side listening to a student read while taking a reading record. These assessments are just as important and highly informative to deliver between benchmark assessment intervals.

When coming together for a collaborative team meeting to discuss practices which will best support students, it is important to have data to inform the basis of this discussion. At the onset of the school year benchmark data is likely your most readily accessible form of data for this meeting. Beyond this you will be bringing various forms of continuous, or ongoing assessment results. Growth, or lack of, can be determined just as readily from these forms of data without having to readminister a benchmark assessment which was only ever intended for specific intervals in the school year.

In order to further support your question of “Which assessment should I use?” I'd like to share a template that will assist you in examining your purpose, interval and pros and cons to examine possible literacy assessments. I hope this provides clarity around why there is no simple answer. Being clear on what you want to gather, for what specific purpose and at what times during the year will help create an assessment plan to best support your students, teachers, and school collectively.

Author: Cheryl Gascoyne