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Balanced Assessment Systems

by Donna Mastrovito | 1 | 0 Comments

“You can either fight assessment or embrace it. However; you cannot be a high performing school without embracing assessment.”

Do you agree with this quote from Lynn Fielding?

I know one thing we can all agree on: There is no shortage of assessments taking place in schools!  DIBELS, DRA, DDM’s, Benchmark Assessment, MAP, ANET, MCAS, ACCESS, PARCC., etc……….sound familiar?

There are many types of assessments administered in schools, each one serving a different purpose. Typically, at the beginning of the school year, screening assessments are given to help with instructional grouping and to identify students at risk.  If a school is fortunate enough to have a reading specialist, diagnostic tests can be administered to identify students’ areas of strengths and weaknesses, and they also provide a focus for interventions.  In addition, progress monitoring assessments are given every two weeks to track progress and determine the effectiveness of interventions.  At the end of the school year, summative assessments are given to determine which students have met grade level benchmarks.  Some people liken this to an autopsy: You get the results, but it is too late to do anything with it.

I do agree with Lynn Fielding’s quote, but I think it needs to be quantified.  If assessments are given only for compliance sake, and not for the purpose of informing teaching and advancing learning, then I strongly disagree.  “There is no point in testing if you don’t look at the data, don’t understand it, and don’t change”(Annual Growth, Catch Up Growth).

I believe the highest performing schools are those that have a balanced assessment system where both summative and formative assessments are an integral part of information gathering.

There has been a lot of verbiage about summative assessments, so much so that it excludes the important conversations teachers should be having around formative assessment, or assessments that inform instruction. Formative assessments do not come in a box. They do not cost a lot of money. They present opportunities to check for understanding throughout daily lessons. When the assessment tool is matched to learning objectives, teachers are able to address misunderstandings and errors immediately, provide feedback, and make adjustments to differentiate instruction.

Keys to Literacy Routines enhance students’ comprehension by providing strategies to meet learning objectives. These strategies can also be used as formative assessments before, during and after instruction. For example, Top Down Topic Webs, which are visual representations of big ideas, and Word Knowledge Checklists, which are a vocabulary previewing strategy, activate prior knowledge and spark curiosity.  As students engage in these activities, teachers can use these tools as a pre- assessment to evaluate background knowledge on a topic prior to teaching.  This information should serve as a guide for creating lesson plans that meet the needs of all the students – a necessary component of differentiated instruction.

During instruction, as students take two-column notes, teachers can evaluate their ability to determine the main idea and supporting details by reviewing their note taking skills and their understanding of the content. If students’ notes are inadequate, comprehension will suffer.  In addition, the questions students ask should provide insight into their thinking. If students are generating questions at the lower level of Bloom’s, it indicates that they have not made the leap necessary for critical thinking. In both of these examples, teachers are able to give immediate feedback to get students back on track. If main ideas are not identified and notes are not clear, writing will not be focused. Knowing this, teachers are able to assist students in the thinking stage of the writing process rather than extensively editing their writing.

Summary writing, one of Key’s strategies, has been identified as one of the most effective comprehension strategies by National Reading Panel and Reading Next. Writing to Read and Writing Next has also identified summary writing as one of the most effective writing strategies. In addition, it is a great assessment tool for evaluating comprehension, understanding main ideas and improving students’ ability to write clearly and concisely.  Incorporating summary writing as a consistent practice weekly has many benefits.

Formative assessments allow teachers and students to share responsibility for their learning by providing varied daily interactions.  Keys to Literacy offers formative assessment rubrics for providing feedback to students, as they begin to become independent with note taking, summarizing and question generation.  These feedback sheets will allow students and teachers to evaluate strengths and provide suggestions for improvement, thereby making learning a collaborative effort.

For additional reading on formative assessments, read Chapter 1 of “Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, 2nd Edition” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.

When a comprehensive assessment program is in place, a clear picture emerges that drives teaching and learning.  And the more we know about our students, the sooner we can help them overcome their challenges to achieve excellence, this is how high performing schools are created.

Donna Mastrovito

Donna Mastrovito Before becoming a Keys to Literacy trainer, Donna served as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, reading specialist and literacy coach. Donna is also an adjunct professor at American International College (AIC), where she teaches a variety of literacy courses and supervises practicum students.

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