Assessing the Situation – Again

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Recent Article from Spring 2010 – Installment 1:

Hints about Assessing Student Progress in the Stevenson Program

If you Google the phrase “reading assessment,” you receive more than 43 million results. “Reading Test” produces about 105 million. (In contrast, “math assessment” yields about 12 million.) Unless you have been teaching in the jungles of New Guinea for the last five years, you know that assessing reading ability is almost an obsession among educational policy-makers today. Therefore, teachers are now asked to perform reading assessments almost continuously.

Two years ago, in the Spring 2008 issue of Food For Thought, we wrote an article entitled Assessing the Situation – RTI and Stevenson. At this point in time, most of you know about Response To Intervention (RTI) and the related need for assessment, so this article focuses on suggesting some simple ways to assess students in the Stevenson Program. While we are on the subject, we also included a related article, Readability Levels and Other Numbers, to point out some of the traps hidden in the assessment process.

[If you are familiar with the Stevenson Mastery/Management Tests, you may want to skip the section that follows and go directly to “A Great Resource: Intervention Central.”]

The Mastery / Management Tests with On-Line Supplements

We publish several progress monitoring tools correlated directly to the Stevenson Language Skills Program. There is a Mastery/Management Test Manual and Mastery Management Test Booklet for the Beginning Green Level, the Basic Blue Level and the Lonely Vowels.

Two types of tests are given at specific junctures: decoding tests and comprehension tests. For the decoding test, the student reads the words from the lists in the appendices in the Teacher’s Test Manual and the teacher records the student’s responses and scores them numerically in the student test booklet. The decoding tests are considered “mastery” tests because, if a student fails to achieve a certain score, the teacher must review the phonics units that the test reveals to be problematic. The student should display mastery before he or she moves forward in the program.

The comprehension tests are considered “management” tests because the student is allowed to proceed with new phonics material even if s/he displays comprehension issues. The teacher “manages” forward progress while working on the elements of comprehension that the test suggests need improvement. Initially, the comprehension test requires very simple responses, such as multiple choice answers. Later the student answers questions in complete sentences in writing.

The Test Manual supplies testing directives for the teacher as well as the word lists which students read aloud. The Test Booklet contains pages for recording the results of the student’s oral reading and scoring his or her decoding skill. The booklet also contains comprehension material that the student reads silently and responds to. Therefore, when completed, the booklet creates a simple, convenient record of the student’s progress through a particular section of the program.

By following the directions in the Mastery/Management Test Manuals, a teacher would administer a decoding and comprehension test roughly every six weeks. Since there is currently so much emphasis on assessing progress, we have posted additional decoding tests on our web site. By using these additional tools, you can easily document progress every two weeks or so. You will find these additional decoding tests by clicking on the “Teaching Resources” link, just underneath the banner on our web site, then scrolling down to “Progress Monitoring.” (Or you can click here now.) This coming summer, we will post more tests for the Lonely Vowels and the Overlapping Strategy books.

The strength of the Mastery/Management tests is their utility for guiding students through the Stevenson Program. The information revealed by these simple assessments helps you focus your teaching efforts more effectively. The drawback to these Stevenson-based tools is that they tell you nothing about how the student’s reading skill relates to other reading measures. In contemporary education, everyone wants to know where their students stand in comparison to students across the country.

A Great Resource: Intervention Central

Comparing the reading abilities of one student to the population at large is not as easy, or as scientific, as most people think. We discuss this problem in the column at the left, and will post further discussion on our web site. First, however, we want to point you toward a simple, free on-line resource that can be very useful for several aspects of reading evaluation, including “measurements” of reading ability by grade level. The name of this resource is Intervention Central, and it can be found at www.interventioncentral.com. On the home page of Intervention Central, you will find a group of tools listed in the right hand column. Our favorite tool is the “CBM Oral Reading Fluency Passage Generator.” This tool allows you to enter any text, up to a 900 word passage, and then generate several valuable CBM (Curriculum Based Measurement) instruments. The teacher’s version of the instrument includes several readability indicators, most of which are expressed as a grade level number.

If you are familiar with DIBELS, Aimsweb or similar assessment tools, you are familiar with the output from “CBM Oral Reading Fluency Passage Generator.” It produces two versions of a text passage, one for students in a clear typeface whose size you can manipulate, and another for the teacher that gives the number of words on each line and a space for scoring. The student reads the passage aloud and the teacher counts the number of correct words the student reads in one minute. This is a fluency test where speed is highly rewarded, which can be a problem. (See the column at the left.) However, this is currently a very common form of CBM test, and if a student reads more words in the passage accurately as time unfolds, it is usually considered a good indication of progress.

The great advantage of this passage generator is that you can select any passage you want to input. You can choose passages that are very specific to the material you are actually teaching for your evaluation. The teacher’s version of the passage also gives several common grade-level readability scores calculated by the computer. The different readability indicators (e.g., Dale/Chall, Spache, Flesch/Kincaid, Automated Reading Index, etc.) can vary tremendously from one to the other. On the other hand, as long as you consistently use the same indicator, or consistently average them out, you will be able to compare passages from several different sources. You can compare a practice reading passage from the Stevenson Program with a piece of children’s literature or a selection from a basal reading series.

This fluency passage generator is not the only useful tool on Intervention Central. You can check out the others to see if they meet your needs in either reading or math. The site also provides information about RTI that you may find useful. We do not, by any means, agree with all the suggestions or conclusions you will find at Intervention Central. However, as the web site says, “With many school districts across the nation now facing serious budget constraints, Intervention Central is devoted to making high-quality RTI resources available at no cost.” We can’t fault that goal.

Keeping It Simple: Pattern Marking and Illustrating

As relatively easy as it may be to administer our Mastery/ Management Tests or to apply the CBM fluency test from Intervention Central, there is no doubt that either of these activities require important amounts of your time. Unless someone invents a time machine, the time you spend assessing students and maintaining their records has to be deducted from your instruction time. Even if you only take a few minutes to administer an assessment to each child, you could easily lose an hour or two of teaching time. Therefore, assessing students every week can become a problem. On the other hand, not only do you need some record of your students’ performance, you need tools to reveal strengths and weaknesses. Here are two simple ones that take almost no time away from your instruction: pattern marking and illustrating.

When you read the lessons in our manuals, you cannot help but notice that we do one activity very frequently with all students. We call it “pattern marking” because it involves the students’ underlining the Stevenson “vowel patterns” in words. Pattern marking a few words on a regular basis is an important part of the teaching method, but pattern marking a larger group of words (say 10-25, depending on the age of the students and where they are in the program) can provide valuable reinforcement and serve as a quick assessment tool at the same time. You can tell from the number and kind of vowel patterns marked correctly how well the student is mastering his/her basic phonics skills, and whether or not you need to review certain patterns. All of the Stevenson manuals include word lists in the appendices that can be used for this purpose. You can do this weekly with little or no loss of instructional time, and keep the results as an informal assessment.

Similarly, illustrating vocabulary words can be very helpful in documenting student progress. In the Stevenson Program, uncommon vocabulary words are introduced on a regular basis, not only so that pupils expand their vocabulary, but also so that they can exercise their skill at visualizing word meanings, a foundation for good comprehension. One of the Stevenson Seven Special Vocabulary Building Steps (not all of which are used on each word) is Illustrating. Students simply draw a picture that represents the meaning of a new word, then print the word under the picture. Students can also illustrate phrases or sentences. (This activity is going to occur more in early stages of the program than in late stages, unlike the pattern marking activity which is used consistently throughout all levels.) If you have each student collect their vocabulary illustrations in a folder, the growing pile of pictures demonstrates how the student is progressing (artistic ability is not judged). Gaps in understanding are also revealed. The collection of the drawings takes very little time away from instruction, while the illustrating itself provides valuable reinforcement.

Unfortunately, collecting illustrations does not yield a numerical score, which many educators want from their assessments. The best, most realistic assessment process, however, cannot be summed up in a few numbers. Years ago, keeping a thorough portfolio of a student’s work was considered important, and it still can be a valuable activity.

We are in the process of completing a document that we will post on our web site under the “Teaching Resources” section in May. Entitled “Some Suggestions on Assessments and Record Keeping for Students in the Stevenson Language Skills Program,” this information discusses the assessments mentioned here as well as other possibilities, both for quantitative results and portfolio building. Assessment is as much an art as a science, so the more options you come to understand, the better. However, teaching is always the first priority, and every teacher we know is pressed for time. As always, call (800-343-1211) or e-mail (info@stevensonlearning.com) us if we can help.