The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Meaningful Assessments

Teachers do a lot of assessing. Some will argue that we do too much assessing, while others still argue that we don’t do enough. I find myself, as usual, somewhere in the middle. I think that we do too much assessing on criteria that aren’t particularly useful and not enough that will meaningfully impact our instructional decisions. I have been trying to change this in my own classroom and work my schedule in such a way that I can quickly grab snapshots of what my students can do (assessing them) without it taking away from instructional time. This kind of formative assessment is useful when done well and just a waste of time when done poorly.

I’d like to think that I conduct formative assessments well more times than not.

One of the types of formative assessment I have been trying to use more consistently is the oral reading record, also known as the running record or the reading record. The process is fairly straightforward: students are given a reading passage that is at their current instructional level and they are directed to read it aloud. As they read, the teacher makes notes of errors, self-corrections, and repetitions while also timing how long it takes to read. The goal in fourth grade is for students to read 120 or more words per minute with 98% or better accuracy. After the student is done reading, the teacher may ask a few comprehension questions to determine how well the student understood the text. This information is then recorded and tracked over time. The goal is to see students increasing their oral reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension while also reading more complex texts.

The challenge is that all of this takes time. Teachers can’t assess multiple students at once, so that they have to be able to set aside the time to let each student read individually. Students who are not reading with the teacher need to be engaged in tasks that are meaningful (positively impact their learning) and worthwhile (valuable to them as learners).

I tried something new today that I felt worked pretty well. All week, students have been reading a short text in their guided reading groups. After discussing plot elements such as characters, setting, genre, and the key events of the story. Today I had each student read a brief passage from the text to me. I meet with each of my five reading groups for 15 minutes a day. Each group has between four and seven students. Because the passages were only about 100 words in length, I was able to have all of my students read aloud to me when they came to me during their group’s assigned times. When not reading aloud, the students worked on a vocabulary sheet that connected to the text. After everyone in the group had read, we were able to go over the worksheet together. The students then took the worksheets with them and added the vocabulary words to their working document they are making with Google Slides that helps them keep track of new vocabulary words.

The key to these assessments, however, and what will make them formative, or, as my superintendent and my district director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment like to call them, informative, is that I will be sharing the results with my students on Monday when I meet with their groups again and introduce new texts. Students need to know how they did, what the goals are, and what they need to do better. Otherwise, we are just assessing to assess, and that is neither worthwhile nor meaningful.

How have you made the assessment process, whether formal or informal, more meaningful for you and those you assess, whether they are students, employees, employers, or other?

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