Developing a literacy assessment schedule

Updated: Mar 20

I have had a lot of questions lately about the assessments we are using at our new primary school (Docklands Primary School) and more generally about which literacy assessments are most useful to include when developing an assessment schedule. I have therefore written a post as a reference point for those of you who may be considering an assessment schedule renovation.


What's the problem?


I have written previously about current literacy assessment practices in Victorian schools. Most of the time our assessments don't examine or monitor requisite skills with sufficient depth or frequency. Here is a snippet of what I wrote last year:


"The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL), The Rose Report, and the National Reading Panel (NRP) have all been clear that there are five key aspects to effective reading instruction. These are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension. If these are to be the pillars of our instruction, we need to assess and monitor students’ skill acquisition in these domains, as measures of the effectiveness of our teaching and their progress in learning."

Key assessment considerations


I think it is important to reflect on utility, efficacy, time commitment, and cost/benefit. Paradoxically, the most useful literacy assessment tools are often the quickest to administer and the cheapest to purchase.


We obviously need to consider assessments that will examine the five key aspects as outlined above, holding in mind that reading comprehension is underpinned by knowledge of how oral and written language work.


Some questions to reflect on:


- Which skills should we be assessing/monitoring and why?

- What are we already assessing and why?

- How do I use our data to modify my instruction? Is this easy to do?

- Is this the best data to be collecting?

- What are we missing? Have we covered all bases?

- Are all/most of the skills and sub-skills involved in reading and writing development being assessed and monitored?

- How do we know what we are doing is working?

- How often do we monitor for progress?

- Are we using (at least some) assessments that have been tested for reliability (it measures learning consistently over time and between assessors) and validity (it measures what it was designed to measure or what it purports to measure)?


Our literacy assessment schedule


This is not shared to be copied without thought. It is not being presented as the gold standard. It is a work in progress for us and we will revise and improve what we do as both need and opportunity arise. There are many useful assessments that exist and different schools will find the combination that works for them. A number of factors influenced our choices as we started out this year. We created a schedule that provided us with the data we though was most important for progress monitoring and regular instructional review, and selected assessments that could provide that data in the most effective, informative, and time sensitive ways.


Foundation (also referred to as Kindergarten or Prep)


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [4 minutes per student; 3 x per year]

Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) [1 minute]

Phonemic Segmentation Fluency (PSF) [1 minute]

Nonword Reading Fluency (NWF) [1 minute]

Word Reading Fluency (WRF) [1 minute]


2. CUBED Narrative Language Measures (NLM): Listening Comprehension [3 minutes per student; 3 x per year]


Story re-tell (listening comprehension) and story grammar elements

Coordinating and subordinating conjunctions

Vocabulary


3. English Online (as mandated by DET) [February]

4. MOTIf Diagnostic Spelling Tests (sounds; nonwords) [September]

5. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


Year 1


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [5 minutes per student; 3 x per year]

Letter Naming Fluency (LNF) [1 minute]

Phonemic Segmentation Fluency (PSF) [1 minute]

Nonword Reading Fluency (NWF) [1 minute]

Word Reading Fluency (WRF) [1 minute]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]


2. CUBED Narrative Language Measures (NLM): Listening Comprehension [3 minutes per student; 3 x per year]


Story re-tell (listening comprehension) and story grammar elements

Coordinating and subordinating conjunctions

Vocabulary


3. Phonics Screening Check [Term 3]

4. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

5. MOTIf Diagnostic Spelling Tests (sounds; nonwords; irregular words) [September]

6. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

7. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


Year 2


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [3 minutes per student + 3 minutes whole class; 3 x per year]

Nonword Reading Fluency (NWF) [1 minute]

Word Reading Fluency (WRF) [1 minute]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]

Maze (comprehension) [3 minutes - whole class]


2. CUBED Narrative Language Measures (NLM): Listening Comprehension [3 minutes per student; 3 x per year]


Story re-tell (listening comprehension) and story grammar elements

Coordinating and subordinating conjunctions

Vocabulary


3. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

4. MOTIf Diagnostic Spelling Tests (sounds; nonwords; irregular words) [September]

5. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

6. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


Year 3


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [3 minutes per student + 3 minutes whole class; 3 x per year]

Nonword Reading Fluency (NWF) [1 minute]

Word Reading Fluency (WRF) [1 minute]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]

Maze (comprehension) [3 minutes - whole class]


2. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

3. Progress Achievement Test - Grammar and Punctuation [November]

4. NAPLAN [May]

5. Comparative Judgement (narrative writing) [February]

6. Components of Spelling Test [September]

7. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

8. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


Year 4


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [1 minute per student + 3 minutes whole class; 3 x per year]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]

Maze (comprehension) [3 minutes - whole class]


2. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

3. Progress Achievement Test - Grammar and Punctuation [November]

4. Components of Spelling Test [September]

5. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

6. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


Year 5


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [1 minute per student + 3 minutes whole class; 3 x per year]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]

Maze (comprehension) [3 minutes - whole class]


2. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

3. Progress Achievement Test - Grammar and Punctuation [November]

4. Components of Spelling Test [September]

5. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

6. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]

7. NAPLAN


Year 6


1. Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) [1 minute per student + 3 minutes whole class; 3 x per year]

Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) [1 minute]

Maze (comprehension) [3 minutes - whole class]


2. Progress Achievement Test - Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) [November]

3. Progress Achievement Test - Grammar and Punctuation [November]

4. Components of Spelling Test [September]

5. Writing moderation [Term 2 & Term 4]

6. Teacher judgement and reporting [Term 2 & Term 4]


It is important that we monitor teaching and learning closely during the year


We believe that formative assessment should occur daily, weekly and monthly, through questioning and review. Questioning should include Checking For Understanding questions throughout each lesson. Knowledge and skill development should be reviewed regularly in informal and formal ways.


DIBELS is an excellent assessment suite for many reasons. The benchmarking and progress monitoring assessment tools ensure you have multiple data points across each teaching year. This allows us to track student progress and assess our own effectiveness as educators on a regular basis.


What we know so far as we near the end of Term 1


We have been able to develop risk profiles for all of our students across F-6 from our DIBELS Benchmark 1 data. Based on their subtest scores and composite scores, students are assigned to one of four risk levels. Across Letter Naming Fluency, Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, Nonword Fluency, Word Reading Fluency, Oral Reading Fluency and/or Maze Reading Comprehension, students are categorised in the following ways:


At risk for reading difficulties (red): Intensive support required (below the 20th percentile)


Some risk (yellow): Strategic support required (below the 40th percentile)


At benchmark with minimal risk (green): Core instruction is likely to be sufficient


Above benchmark with negligible risk (blue): May need extending


What we are doing about it


Students have come to our new school with highly variable language, reading, spelling, and writing skills. We believe if we get our Tier 1 instruction right, the gaps can begin to close for many of our students.


We are using a Response to Intervention framework. We are continuing to develop, improve, monitor, and review our Tier 1 (whole class) instruction. Word-level reading and spelling instruction (with attention to phonology, orthography, and morphology) is taught through Sounds~Write (F-2) and Spelling Mastery (3-6). Reading fluency is taught and practised across F-6. We use the Core Knowledge Foundation Curriculum for most of our English, Geography, History, and Science units. The Writing Revolution and vocabulary instruction are embedded within those knowledge units. Reading and writing skill development matters in all learning areas, not just English. Our read-aloud and shared reading texts are based on The 5 Plagues of the Developing Reader (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, 2016).


We are providing Tier 2 intervention (3 x 30-minute sessions per week) to F-2 students with the primary focus being on word-level reading and spelling development.


We are currently grouping Grade 3-6 students and planning Tier 2 reading and spelling interventions for them too.


We still need to consider how we will provide additional support to students with persistent reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing difficulties despite our best efforts at Tier 1. Our Benchmark 2 data will help us out with that, once students have had nearly two terms of our Tier 1 instruction.


Our brilliant instructional coach Bron Ryrie Jones is working with staff on embedding effective teaching practices across all aspects of the curriculum through professional learning, coaching, and the development of a school-wide instructional approach. The leadership team is commencing a formal observation and coaching schedule from Term 2. We will reap the benefits of this in literacy I'm sure.


In closing


Student progress hinges on best-practice Tier 1 (whole class) instruction and responding to additional learning needs in a timely manner. More frequent, intensive instruction is required for those for whom Tier 1 instruction is not sufficient.


Literacy assessments should be able to directly, unambiguously inform what we do in the classroom tomorrow, for individual students and the whole class. If our assessments don't enable highly focused and targeted responsive teaching, it is time to review our assessment schedule.


I look forward to continuing to share what we learn along the way, as we strive for teaching excellence and the best possible outcomes for our students.


Update 20/03/2021


Many have asked why PAT-R is included rather than YARC or NARA. Evidence suggests YARC is a superior measure, but for a number of reasons PAT-R is the best fit for us for now. YARC is an assessment option for students who remain behind and we have DIBELS Maze and CUBED NLM-LC as additional checks. Balancing how much time we spend on assessment, as well as collecting data that is useful for us internally, while at the same time meeting the expectations and needs of our network of schools for the purpose of comparison and tracking, is always a challenge.



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