by Rebecca McKay
|Excerpt from The Big Box, Toni Morrison with Slade Morrison:
... Patty used to live with a two-way door in a little white house near us. But she had too much fun in school all day and made the grownups nervous.
... So the teachers who loved her had a meeting one-day to try to find a cure. They thought and talked and thought some more till finally they were sure. "Oh, Patty, they said, "you're an awfully sweet girl with a lot of potential inside you. "but you have to know how far
Assessment is the hot topic even in children's picture books such as The Big Box by Toni Morrison. I am convinced that children's picture books are really written for adults. This one is especially poignant as it depicts possibilities when children do not fit the expectations of adults...they are labeled, separated from others, and dished up a remedy that often impedes their freedom to learn and really just be children!
In preparation for writing this introductory assessment article, I have read extensively. It seems as though everything I pick up including the local newspaper has a twist that points toward assessment! Sunday's local paper was entitled, NCLB. The article's subtitle bemoaned the labeling of one area school as failing because of high stakes testing and assessment.
For many years, I had the honor of teaching first-grade. Quite often, the majority of the children would be sent to my class labeled as strugglers. Contrary to the negatives that are in the media about testing and assessment, I found that my teacher-designed assessments were effective in moving the children quickly past their old labels. This contradiction spurred my desire to explain fully and support what I had experienced by defining and naming the type of assessment that I found so useful. I was on a mission!
Reading a Peter Johnston text, Knowing literacy: Constructive literacy assessment, I discovered a reference to assessment terminology dating to Latin derivations. Assessment as a term has its origins in the Latin word testa meaning " a piece of burned clay or skull." The word test gradually became more common and described a process for testing metals by burning them in a clay skull-shaped container. A fifth-grader I interviewed recently gave a similar description! Amazingly, accurate in his interpretation, this wiry fifth grader spouted out his feelings about standardized testing, "Aw, it's just a way to make us look dumb. I'm bad you know. I'm not very good at school and reading!" That comment put a lump in my throat!
Interviewing students really provides a startling and heart wrenching view of the massive standardized testing that our children endure in the name of teacher accountability. These tests, summative in nature, seem to do little to help teachers or the children they serve to improve student learning or instructional practice. On the other hand, recently I observed second-grade students clamoring to sit alongside Dianne Nicholson, a Stemley teacher. They wanted to show off their reading.
As Dianne marked in a clever little book emblazoned with a student's name, the small boy leaned over and whispered as he rubbed the book like a magic lamp, "I love this...I'm getting better...right?" She smiled as she placed a sticky note on the page that recorded his oral reading fluency and her comment: "Keep practicing. Your retell was excellent. Work on your sequencing with a partner. I'll read with you again tomorrow!" It was clear that Dianne loved this process of taking a running record as much as the small boy had loved sitting alongside her!
This second-grade version of formative assessment actually impacts student learning and the practice of teaching. This scene truly fits the word assessment as a derivative of the Latin term, assidere, meaning to sit alongside. Dianne was accurately evaluating her student's reading, making suggestions, and forming her next teaching moves. He knew and she knew how they both could become better. Isn't this what we should really be striving toward in our schools? This seems fitting since the word evaluation has the root word value and the prefix 'e' to build its meaning: from strength, worth, or value.
In summary, assessment that makes a positive difference refers to all those actions undertaken by teachers—and by their students in assessing themselves. These activities supply a wealth of information to be used as feedback to modify, change, and improve teaching and learning. Such assessment thus moves into another realm becoming a dynamic living part of teaching that is often referred to as formative assessment. In this type of assessment, evidence gathered is actually used to adapt teaching to meet student needs (Black and Wiliam, 1998). This was the definition I needed to name what I had experienced in my years as a first-grade teacher as well as what I observed in Dianne's classroom. Her use of formative assessment as an evaluation tool has certainly painted a vivid, unforgettable picture in my mind of what happens when teachers pull alongside a child to look for strengths, to value, and to share the worth of a child's best efforts!
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment [online].
Crafton, L. K. (1996). Narrative writing: Toward a "real kid" report card. Standards in practice: Grades K-2. Urbana: IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Hewitt, G. (1995). A portfolio primer: Teaching, collecting, and assessing student writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Johnston, P. H. (1997). Knowing literacy: Constructive literacy assessment. York, MN: Stenhouse.
For further reading, a bibliography taken from the International Reading Association's website: [http://www.reading.org/]
Reading Research Quarterly
This journal is oriented toward theory and research; RRQ scrutinizes issues of literacy faced by learners of all ages and the educators serving them. Clicking on a link will take you to a table of contents containing the listed article. From there, click on the appropriate page number to read the abstract and find out about online purchase options. You also might find the articles at local or university libraries, or you may contact the International Reading Association's order department to purchase hard copies.
The road to folly and redemption: Perspectives on the legitimacy of high-stakes testing, by Peter Afflerbach (July/Aug/Sept 2002; vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 348-360).
How will literacy be assessed in the next millennium?, by Robert J. Tierney, Peter Johnson, David W. Moore, and Sheila W. Valencia (Apr/May/June 2000; vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 276-282)
Political acts: Literacy learning and teaching, by Arlette Ingram Willis and Violet J. Harris (Jan/Feb/Mar 2000; vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 72-88)
The Reading Teacher
This journal is designed for preschool, primary, and elementary educators; RT offers practical advice on the issues affecting current literacy education. The articles listed below can often be found at local or university libraries. You may also purchase articles in electronic format from the International Reading Association article archive or, for hard copies, contact the order department.
Effective instruction begins with purposeful assessments, by Charlene Cobb (Speaking to Administrators and Reading Specialists department; Dec 2003/Jan 2004; vol. 57, no. 4, pp. 386-388)
Assessment conversations, by Peter Johnston (Sept 2003; vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 90-92)
Enhancing self-efficacy for high-stakes reading tests, by Patrick McCabe (Sept 2003; vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 12-20)
They can read the words, but they can't understand: Refining comprehension assessment, by Peter Dewitz and Pamela K. Dewitz (Feb 2003; vol. 56, no. 5, pp. 422-435)
Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement: Measuring children's reading development using leveled texts, by Scott Paris (Oct 2002; vol. 56, no. 2, pp. 168-170)
Matching texts and readers: Leveling early reading materials for assessment and instruction, by Lori Jamison Rog and Wilfred Burton (Dec 2001/Jan 2002; vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 348-356)
High-stakes testing in reading: Today in Texas, tomorrow?, by James V. Hoffman, Lori Czop Assaf, and Scott G. Paris (Feb 2001; vol. 54, no. 5, pp. 482-492)
Three paradigms of assessment: Measurement, procedure, and inquiry, by Frank Serafini (Dec 2000/Jan 2001; vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 384-393)
Student-generated rubrics: Bringing students into the assessment process, by Mary Jo Skillings and Robbin Ferrell (Mar 2000; vol. 53, no. 6, pp. 452-458)
This is IRA's free e-journal, ROL. It focuses on classroom practice and research for literacy educators at all levels. The articles linked below are among those featured in this interactive, Web-based journal.
Linking assessment and instruction via Web-based technology: A case study of a statewide early literacy initiative, by Heather Partridge, Marcia Invernizzi, Joanne Meier, and Amie Sullivan (Nov/Dec 2003)
Assessment resources, by Denise Johnson (Sept 2001)
High-stakes testing in our schools: A new report from California, by Dana L. Grisham (July 2001)
Assessment in media education, by Chris M. Worsnop (Nov 2000)
Formative assessment of reading comprehension by computer: Advantages and disadvantages of The Accelerated Reader software, by Keith Topping (Nov 1999)
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy
This journal is an open forum for educators interested in adolescent through adult literacy. JAAL seeks to encourage creative ways of teaching and studying literacy. The articles listed might be found at local or university libraries. You may also purchase articles in electronic format from the IRA article archive or, for hard copies, contact the order department.
Does the Degrees of Reading Power assessment reflect the reading process? An eye-movement examination, by Eric J. Paulson, Jeanne Henry (Nov 2002; vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 234-244)
The International Reading Association's bimonthly newspaper, Reading Today contains the latest news about trends that influence literacy education. Articles linked below are freely available among the IRA online samples.
Expert panel debates high-stakes testing (Dec 2003/Jan 2004)
NAEP writing test shows modest gains (Oct/Nov 2003)
Good news, bad news: Latest NAEP scores (Aug/Sept 2003)
European students earn top reading scores (Aug/Sept 2003)
The unfairness of uniformity, by Dale D. Johnson and Bonnie Johnson (Aug/Sept 2002)
When testing lowers standards, by Donald H. Graves (Apr/May 2002)
High stakes: How to get political, by Jill Lewis (Apr/May 2001)