The Importance of Assessments
“TELL ME AND I FORGET. TEACH ME AND I REMEMBER. INVOLVE ME AND I LEARN.” –BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
When we hear the word ‘assessment’, it can sound kind of scary because a lot of people seem to associate assessments with identifying what someone is doing “wrong” or figuring out how they’re not good enough at whatever it is they’re being assessed in. If that were true, assessments would be a totally fair thing to fear and want to avoid! However, (thankfully!) that is far from what we’re trying to achieve when we’re recommending a reading assessment for your child.
In all actuality, assessments are essentially just a means of gathering information about an individual so that we can better support them in their growth as a learner, reader, and thinker. They let us know exactly what a child is doing well already and exactly what it is they still need to learn in order to ultimately become independent, critical thinkers and participants in society. And yet, there is still a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the importance of assessments for students.
How We Use Assessments
First of all, assessments are not just tests that you pass or fail. Assessments are extremely powerful tools for informing teaching or, as a parent, what you can include when you read with your child. This means an effective assessment is essentially a method of gathering information about what a learner is already doing well and what it is they need more teaching for or support with. As both teachers and parents or caregivers, this knowledge arms us with the ability to build on a child’s strengths, involve them in knowing what it is they are working on (metacognition is super important!), and to be really responsive in how we’re supporting them.
At home, this responsiveness can be as simple as using the information the teacher provides from a reading assessment to guide you in what you draw attention to or discuss about the book you read with your child at bedtime. For example, if an assessment indicates that your child struggles with thinking beyond a text to make connections or predictions, you now know to discuss connections to your own lives or another story you’ve read and to practice making predictions throughout your bedtime reading together.
Second of all, assessments are an effective way to monitor progress for both the teacher and the learner. Ideally, the more we use our assessments to inform our teaching, the more the assessments will show mastery of the skills and strategies we have been teaching for, over time. So, if your child receives an assessment that indicates they are struggling with vowel sounds and fluency, with the explicit teaching of skills and strategies to improve their knowledge and application of vowel sounds as well as their fluency, subsequent assessments should indicate growth in these areas. If they don’t, this still provides valuable information for us. It means we need to try a different way of teaching and supporting the learner, that they need more practice with these skills and strategies, or that there is something else acting as an obstacle to their learning that needs to be addressed.
Additionally, by monitoring progress, we can create celebratory moments for our young learners and readers! We always want to be building on success and if we have a way to show children how much they’re improving and all the skills or strategies they’re achieving, this helps them build confidence and the identity of someone who is a successful reader and thinker.
What We Assess
When we assess reading, depending on the age and developmental stage of the child, we are typically looking at the following areas:
- Concepts in print
- Phonological awareness
- Sight word recognition
- Decoding skills and strategies
- Comprehension thinking abilities
- Other learning behaviours
The knowledge we gain from assessing these various domains is how we determine a child’s reading level. As a teacher, once we’ve assessed for the child’s abilities and current repertoire of strategies, we can make a plan for teaching what it is they need to further progress, while building on what they can already do.
As a parent/caregiver, when you receive the information about what they do well and what they need to work on in each of those domains, you can help support your child’s growth as a reader by modeling those skills/strategies when you read together, praising them every time they use certain skills/strategies, and keeping them in mind when you ask them questions about their reading, or prompt discussions about what you’re reading together.
The Confusion About Levels
When we’re discussing a child’s reading level, it’s a way of communicating how they are reading in comparison to the average, typical reader at their same age and developmental stage. It is important to note that at the various levels, there are certain reading and thinking behaviours that the child should be exhibiting while achieving comprehension. That being said, the level itself is not what gives us valuable information, it’s just an overall indicator of what a reader can generally do in terms of decoding, accuracy, comprehension, and fluency while they read and whether their abilities are below, at, or above that of other, typical readers of the same developmental stage.
So it doesn’t matter so much that your child is reading at an ‘M’ or an ‘O’. What we want to focus on is the combined skills and abilities they are demonstrating that determined that level. It’s this knowledge that will allow us to effectively teach and support learners, monitor their progress, and set goals. For example, if your child is reading at a ‘B’ by the end of Kindergarten instead of the expected ‘C’, just knowing that won’t help you to help them progress, and telling them that they are working toward becoming a ‘C’ reader isn’t helpful to them either because it provides no indication of what it is good readers do or what they need to do to improve. All that feedback tells them is that they’re not good at reading and that belief itself will create a huge obstacle to their future learning and success as a reader.
What matters, and is more helpful feedback to the child, is that we know they need to work on using initial sounds and sight words while they read, but they’re doing a great job of using the pictures to help them construct meaning. Working on that, while building on their success, is what will help them progress to reading at grade level. When we’re working to support our children as they are learning to read, we never want to focus on their level. It’s integral that the feedback we give them is about the specific abilities, skills, and strategies they’re using as a reader – including, and perhaps especially, what it is they are doing well.
Ultimately, referring to a child’s reading level can be a helpful, generalized way to monitor progress, but focusing on just the level won’t give you enough information to support a child. The level is just a tool to help us select books that are accessible to the reader and appropriate for helping them learn and apply the skills and strategies over time. That’s why our assessments indicate their independent reading level, as well as their instructional reading level. An independent reading level is their “good fit” books, one where they can read for meaning by themselves. Their instructional reading level is one that is accessible for them, but in which they require support and teaching to be successful in reading for meaning.
Assessments Help You to Help Your Child
Overall, making sure your child is getting regular reading assessments is a really important way to support them as a reader. The information you get from an assessment can help you ensure that they are progressing, give you the tools to support them in doing so, and help you form a team and partnership with their teacher, all while providing opportunities to celebrate your child’s successes and grow their confidence.
Curious if your child is on track? Want to know where they’re starting from so you can gauge their development? Get a thorough assessment from Hoot Reading that shows you not only where your child is at, but potential areas of growth that can easily be shared with their regular classroom teacher, and tactics to use at home to help them grow.