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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Assessments in a Balanced Lit Classroom

     In a balanced literacy classroom, assessment-based planning is at the heart of the literacy model. It should be on-going, and drive instructional decisions. These assessments provide a clear window into each student’s reading life. Once you introduce a variety of assessments into your reading classroom, you’ll quickly see that there are no longer red birds, bluebirds, and yellow birds, but rather a unique ecosystem of readers constantly adapting and changing.  And, to keep with the ecosystem metaphor, you’ll find quite a few readers so sly with camouflage that they have hidden their literacy deficits under the canopy of good test-taking skills.

     Assessments in my classroom continue to evolve, and have become increasingly tied to my PLC grade level assessment decisions. Below you’ll find a summary of the assessment tools and opportunities for student reflection that I incorporate into my Balanced Literacy classroom.

Materials & Tools

DIBELS & Running Records (Formative/ non-graded) 
This is the area most in flux in my Balanced Lit classroom at the moment.  For several years, I have used DIBELS to assess reading fluency and basic comprehension.  I’ve had mixed feelings on this tool because, ultimately, this is beneficial to monitor non-fluent readers, and a waste of time (IMHO) for fluent readers. Last year, I moved to only using DIBELS as a progress monitoring tool for RTI. When it comes to running records, we all know that it’s time consuming.  In the past, I used running records for RTI. This upcoming school year, I plan to reverse it and use running records on all of my students.  I’ll do an initial assessment during the first weeks of school, and then shift the tool into my conferencing time throughout the year. I share DIBELS results, running records, and anecdotal notes with parents during parent conferences. 

Performance Assessments (Summative / test grade) 
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!! After most extended text readings, whether through guided reading, modeled reading, or book clubs, students typically complete a creative performance assessment based on the text and standard(s) that we have been working on. I often use a choice menu of tasks or presentation modes to differentiate the process and product. You must create a rubric for this!  I promise, it takes a little hard work upfront learning to create rubrics, but it gets easier. If this is a common assessment among your grade level, be sure to share your rubric with your PLC members. I grade these projects, hang them in the classroom, and then send the graded rubric and project home to parents.

Reading Response (formative/ quiz grade) 
I use a reading response journal for quick formative checks. Students are given a 3-ring binder that contains a response choice menu, reading log, and written response section. (I created mine based off of Beth Newingham’s blog suggestions). Students will either bring their journals to our 1:1 conference or I will peruse responses every two weeks and assign a grade based on a response rubric.  *I just saw an idea on Pinterest where you have mini-rubrics on label stickers that you can attach to reading responses. It saves paper and time! I send these response journals home to parents twice a quarter.

Cold-Read Assessments once every two weeks at their current grade level  (formative/quiz grade) 
The easiest source for this is to use a Science or Social Studies passage/lesson from the textbook, with a correlated quiz from the textbook teaching materials. It’s essentially an open-book quiz.  I know…it’s a textbook and super traditional!  But, it’s non-fiction, relevant, rigorous and (supposedly) on grade level. We also can’t ignore that our students are assessed in a multiple choice format on standardized tests, typically using science and social studies passages. Other resources for these cold-read passages with comprehension questions include, and test prep books. These cold-read assessments should be at their current grade level, not the instructional level.  

Grade level Common Assessments (formative or summative/ graded) 
An entire blog post…no, make that a book…could be written on developing common assessments among your PLC. Look for a post on this topic later, but here’s the gist.  Balanced Literacy uses the Backwards-Design model, meaning you must decide what you want your student learning outcome to be related to the standard, and then design the assessment using a variety of DOK levels before you begin to actually write your lesson plans.  Your PLC needs to be able to answer these questions before drafting the assessment:

                What do we want the students to learn?
                How will we know when each student has learned it?
                How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty 
                in learning?

In my PLC, we typically look ahead in our instructional calendar and decide which standards will be assessed in an upcoming unit.  We then divide up the writing of the initial draft for each assessment. Initially, my PLC had content “leaders” that took charge of their content’s initial draft of assessments.  This only worked, though, for those content leaders with less assessments. We found that we needed more frequent language arts, and vocabulary tests than reading, science and social studies.  The distribution of assessments was uneven and led to quick burnout.  We later changed our process to creating a list of needed assessments and divided it up equally. 

Individualized instructional level assessments  - My school has used the Accelerated Reader program for several years to assess reading at student’s independent levels. For the past two years, we have taken a quiz grade every two weeks, using the average of all quizzes. While I liked the potential that the AR comprehension assessment data might have provided me, I was often concerned that the data was skewed.  When kids didn’t manage their time well, they would rush through books to meet the deadline impacting scores, or try to slip in a book below their instructional level to read it fast. 
My school is moving away from the AR program this school year.  I’m not sure yet what that will mean for this category of assessments. Stay tuned…

Conferencing (formative / non-graded) – Look for a blog post on 1:1 conferencing.  It’s a vital component in a Balanced Literacy classroom!