Slice of Life: The Power of Assessments

Assessments are powerful tools. Consider medical tests. Used appropriately they can be lifesaving. Used inappropriately, they can be misleading and lead to painful misdiagnosis. The same is true for reading assessments.

My students have been been schooled to be careful, questioning readers. Speed has been discouraged. Their reading assessments to date have rewarded thoughtful responses, both spoken and written. They are used to conferring with a teacher to express their thinking. This is what they believe is expected of them as readers. This is what they think reading is.

My district has recently required a new reading assessment. I had never done this type of assessment before and the majority of my students had no recollection of taking this kind of a test.

The assessment measures reading fluency over three passages with a quick retell at the end. The emphasis is on speed: the number of words read and spoken in the retell.

Results aren’t complete, but what I have noticed is how quickly students adjust to expectations. In the first passage they would read at their typical, careful pace. When stopped at the minute mark they were startled and felt they needed to complete the piece to be able to understand it. Retelling the story was difficult and frustrating for them. After all they hadn’t finished the text.

By the third read, students’ speed increased markedly. Their years of learning how readers should read was abandoned for what was expected, speed. With that speed they got further in the text, but their comprehension was at best on the surface. They could recount details, but synthesis of ideas was limited.

In just six minutes (the time allowed to read and retell three passages) their behavior as readers changed. Whoa! Do they learn fast.

As much as I told them not to worry, you could see the concern in their faces. They could see their scores come up on the iPad screen.

“What does green mean? Is that good?”

They probably felt like the patient in the doctor’s office with all the blinking lights and numbers. Thinking, am gonna be ok?

I try to reassure them. I tell them reading is not about speed. Reading is thinking and thinking takes time. Don’t worry about this, I say.  Go back to your book, hoping they forget the entire experience.

When I found out I had to do this assessment I was irritated because of the time taken away from instruction. After testing them, I am more disturbed by their reactions to the assessment.

When we test students we send a message. We are telling them this is what matters. You’d better be good at this.

Fortunately, my students went back to their books, and I will go back to teaching them that reading is thinking and that takes time. I also walk on with the knowledge that the assessments we give students send powerful expectations and should be given with care..

Thank you to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara at Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesday Slice of Life. Share your own and r11454297503_e27946e4ff_head more slices here.