Archived Information

State of the Art: Reading - November 1993

image omitted 10. The most valuable form of reading assessment reflects our current understanding about the reading process and simulates authentic reading tasks.


The optimist says assessment will drive instruction in the future and new and better assessments are being developed to do this job. But the cautious optimist says this will only happen if educators at all levels understand the difference between sound and unsound assessment and can integrate sound assessments into the instruction process in effective ways.
                                       (Stiggins and Conklin 1992, p. 3)

Until very recently reading assessment focused on measuring students' performance on a hierarchy of isolated skills that, when put together, were thought to compose "reading." Now it is known that the whole act of reading is greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., isolated skills). Moreover, these parts are interrelated within a literacy context and do not always develop in a hierarchical way. The discrete skills concept has been replaced with the current constructive, interactive view on literacy learning. This perspective grew out of recent research on cognition that revolutionized what we know about learning. However, by and large, practices in literacy assessment have not kept pace with what is known about literacy learning, although they are beginning to change.

The role of standardized tests in the literacy program is likely to remain important. Because state and local school districts are likely to continue using norm-referenced, standardized tests to evaluate literacy programs, state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are undergoing substantial changes. The majority of these changes involve creating authentic assessments--appraisals that account for critical aspects of reading and that parallel everyday reading tasks. Changes that are moving assessment closer to simulating authentic reading tasks include: using unabridged text directly from the original source for assessing meaning construction; accounting for students' prior knowledge before reading; incorporating samples (portfolios) of student work; and making student self-assessment part of the standardized testing program.

Literacy assessments done in the classroom that involve performance tasks are beginning to provide valuable information needed to direct instructional decision making. Many teachers are turning to portfolio assessments that include multiple measures taken over time of individual students' reading and writing. Well-constructed portfolios contain samples of student work, including representative pieces of work in progress and exceptional pieces, students' reflection about their work, and evaluation criteria. For example, pieces of students' writing in which they share their thinking and feeling about their reading--text analyses from their own point of view--may be included in portfolios. Creating and using performance assessments as alternatives and/or supplements to norm-referenced tests are helping to transform reading instruction and learning in today's state-of-the-art classroom.
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[Children's reading and writing abilities develop together.] [Table of Contents] [References]