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    1. The Challenges of Reading Comprehension Assessment Tracey Cullen

    2. Reading has changed markedly in the past decades, from being seen as a transmission of information from author to reader, to the reader actively constructing meaning by interacting with the text.

    3. The teaching of reading has changed as a result: Comprehension strategies such as visualising, summarising, inferring, asking questions etc. are taught using rich and authentic texts. The processes involved in reading the text are as important as the end product of the reading.

    4. This dramatic shift in thinking about reading as a process requires an equally momentous shift in our thinking about reading assessment (Henk, 1993, p 103) There is concern that the significant improvements in the quality of instruction based on the new understanding of the reading process may be masked while teachers continue to use outdated measures of assessment (Henk, 1993; Kamil, 2000; Valencia, 1987).

    5. Assessment Making a positive difference to student learning should be the main focus of assessments When reading assessment information is used appropriately, research shows that teaching and learning can be enhanced

    6. Problem However, the way some assessments are being used is resulting in a negative impact on teaching and learning (Clarke, 2001; Farr, 1992; Gambrell, 2007; Teale, 2008). The policy of the past decade of promoting testing as if it were the means to higher reading achievement has shown no evidence whatsoever that this was a good idea (Teale, 2008, p. 358).

    7. What can happen as a result, is that teachers are spending a great deal of time assessing students to provide data for school managers or school reports, which uses up valuable instructional time, and either the assessments arent used to inform teaching, or they dont provide enough useful information to enable teaching to be informed (Clarke, 2001; Gambrell, 2007; Ministry of Education, 1997; H. Timperley, 2003).

    8. Informal Reading Inventory is one of these outdated assessments Students read silently and orally a text, usually 100-200 words whilst the teacher undertakes a running record and then the student answers a series of questions Good diagnostic tool for identifying reading strategies used in non-fluent readers or struggling readers One of the most commonly used method of assessing fluent readers in NZ and internationally

    9. So whats wrong with Informal Reading Inventories?

    10. Low-Level Questioning Despite what we know about the complexities of reading comprehension many teachers and assessment specialists still measure comprehension by how well children recall the details of what they have read

    11. Unfortunately, most of the questions asked only require low-level inferencing or simple recall of parts of the text, and do not encourage deep thinking about the text or the encouragement of ownership of active comprehension strategies IRI not sensitive enough to distinguish between children who can remember and those who can think about it

    12. This focus on low level thinking can cause students to believe that reading is just the storing and retrieving of information, and answering questions insignificant, annoying and even painful Lists of pre-planned questions may turn into a ritualised quiz and lose their effectiveness

    13. Results of international reading tests show that students are able to answer questions, extract meaning and recall but they can not critically respond to text (Allington, 2006). They do not spontaneously identify with characters or imagine themselves in stories. There is wide-spread concern about levels of reading comprehension levels throughout in schools across internationally and in New Zealand (Applegate, 2002; Davis, 2006; Stone, 2004).

    14. Only One Answer From what we know about the complex process of reading comprehension and how it involves an interaction between the reader and the text, assuming that there is one correct answer to a question is naive and unsound How with even a modicum of respect for fairness, can we use tests with single correct answers if we know that answers are influenced by experience and background knowledge

    15. Prior Knowledge Many of the questions can be answered without even reading the text This is because background or prior knowledge plays a significant role in the comprehension of texts Higher knowledge on a topic correlates with higher comprehension scores Would it be fairer to ensure that each student gets the chance to read about something they are familiar with so that it is their comprehension skills that are being assessed and not their level of prior knowledge?

    16. Memory In order to answer questions correctly, you need to be able to remember what you have read When informal reading inventories are given and the text is removed from the student at question time, it becomes a test of short term memory knowledge Critics would say however that if you understand something, you will remember it better than if you did not understand it so well Some students have memory difficulties and even though they have comprehended well as they have been reading they are unable to retrieve the necessary information from their memory Is this a true indication of their level of reading comprehension?

    17. Expressive Problems Similar to the memory debate, is the issue of students comprehending texts well but being unable to express themselves in written or oral forms in test situations, thus giving a false indication of their level of understanding It has been suggested that expressive methods should not be used for assessing an output processing task such as reading comprehension

    18. Short and Unnatural Texts IRIs usually only have one or two passages per age level to choose from these texts are short and unnatural, preventing students from engaging with the texts As a result, the results of the IRI may not be indicative of the students reading comprehension ability Perhaps students view these texts differently than they would a normal text that they would read and not use their skills optimally There is wide recognition in academic literature that motivation and interest in a task affects the outcome but it seems apparent that most reading assessment tests, including IRIs, have paid little attention to this fact

    19. Even the most highly motivated student can become bored having to answer twenty questions on a three paragraph test (Day & Park, 2005, p. 68).

    20. Variation in task results Research shows also that depending on the task given to students to measure comprehension, results will vary. Even measures that purport to get at the same construct give different results for the same child and even students who achieve the same score on the same measure may earn that score in quite different ways (Shuy et al., 2006, p. 223).

    21. One study showed that children provided much fuller accounts of a text that they had read when they told their friend about it than when they told their teacher about it, indicating that childrens responses are not always a true indication of their level of understanding of a text

    22. In another study, two groups of children were given the same text to read. The first group had to answer questions related to what they thought might happen in the text while the second group had to sketch a picture of their prediction. The group that sketched their prediction were far more engaged and showed a much more thorough understanding than the group that answered the questions

    23. Time Consuming The large amount of time taken to administer them for very little benefit for fluent readers. With fluent/older readers, there can be little gained from this procedure as they do not make many errors and because they read silently most of the time, oral reading is not always an indication of their actual reading ability

    24. If running records are used with older readers, there should be a special reason for taking them (Clay, 2000 p. 25).

    25. Reliability and Validity If a test measures what it is designed to measure it is reliable and if a test can be replicated with the same results, it is valid Factors that can affect reliability and validity are if test takers are: Fatigued Stressed nervous Unmotivated guessing answers misinterpreting questions

    26. If the tests used: Are not given in a standardised way Are uninteresting and unnatural Have a low number of passages to choose from Texts need to be complete enough to have macrostructures to convey meaning the more words the more reliable

    27. On-going issues with validity and reliability however, indicate that IRIs are not suitable for age-level placements even though this is common practice

    28. Is the PROBE Reading Assessment an Effective Measure of Reading Comprehension? By Qin Chen & Ken. E. Blaiklock, 2007 Study used 33 Year 4 students Small sample size means that caution is needed in interpreting the results

    29. No information about the reliability or the validity of the test in the test manuals (does it measure what it claims to measure and are the results consistent?) Study showed low correlations between the performance of students on even numbered questions and their performance on odd numbered questions means there may be problems with the reliability of the PROBE test

    30. Could be due to the length of the texts (100 words) and the small number of questions (6-8) High correlation found between accuracy rate on fiction/non-fiction texts Low correlation found between comprehension scores on fiction/non-fiction texts

    31. teachers should not use performance on a fiction passage to make judgements about childrens comprehension of a non-fiction passage and vice-versa

    32. Overall, the correlational results suggest that a students performance on the PROBE test may not be a good indicator of where he or she would score on other tests of reading comprehension.

    33. the lack of information about any trialling of the passages on groups of children means that teachers cannot assume that the assigned Reading Ages are an accurate indication of the average performance of children at particular ages.

    34. What should assessments be like then? Have questions that are more like discussions where personal responses are invited Focus on the important aspects and be more inferential than straight recall Questions/activities should evaluate the readers ability to integrate information across the text rather than recalling information and ideas from specific parts The readers prior knowledge and metacognitive skills used while reading should be taken into account Activities should involve students asking questions Activities should be related to normal classroom reading tasks

    35. Texts should be long enough to have complete structures, be authentic, motivational and interesting Texts/activities should be culturally appropriate Texts should measure the students reading motivation and habits Questions should not be able to be answered without reading the text, therefore being passage dependent Assessments need to reflect the complexity of the reading process and be undertaken during the process of reading More than one answer should be allowed for each question, with justification

    36. What tools meet these recommendations?

    37. Cloze? Every 5th word deleted 0-34% = too hard, 35-49% = instructional level, 50%+ = independent level Concerns regarding cloze tests are that they do not assess the complex processes occurring between the text and the reader and they do not require the reader to integrate information from the whole passage, only assessing sentence comprehension, which are lower order skills

    38. Is it any better than IRIs? Probably no worse and certainly a lot less time consuming. It is quick and easy to prepare can be administered to groups of students Can use any text that is desired authenticity Can use text level identified in journals etc

    39. Recall Tests Recall tests where the student reads a text, one or more times, and then either says or writes down all that is remembered Guessing or being given clues from questions are not issues Straight-forward to prepare very time consuming and complex to score

    40. said to be highly valid measures of reading comprehension as the student needs to be able to fully comprehend the text in order to retell it in a logical and coherent way However, the influence of childrens expressive and written skills needs to be taken into account, lessening the validity Criticised for not encourage reflective deep reading that is part of the complex task of reading comprehension

    41. Naturalistic Methods Observing students undertaking everyday reading tasks to determine if they understand what they are reading Activities can be as simple as observing students at guided reading time to see who offers predictions, answers questions, and discusses types of recreational reading. Activities can be more deliberate and involve tasks such as story mapping, sketching, rating characters, writing to authors and other types of reading responses e.g. Sheena Camerons Teaching Comprehension Strategies (2010) and Alison Davis Teaching Reading Comprehension (2008) books

    42. Yes Naturalistic activities: are not time consuming nor are difficult to construct nor are difficult to administer are authentic tasks measure the process of comprehension therefore reflecting current theory in reading and assessment.

    43. One of the reasons why teachers use commercially produced comprehension tests such as IRIs is that they like the standardised nature (even though they arent standardised at all) of the tests. All children read the same text and answer the same questions so you can compare one child with another whether or not the test is conceptually sound or valid or reliable in its construction

    44. Validity/Reliability Potentially, naturalistic procedures are the most valid and reliable assessments of reading comprehension

    45. Valid because: observations are daily They occur in natural context They elicit personal comprehension behaviours Students responses are to normal day in day out tasks rather than contrived, artificial test situations. Reliability is strong because many observations on daily basis Weak because of different teachers abilities to evaluate student behaviours

    46. Is it not better to have an assessment method that is theoretically sound, authentic, motivating, interesting, non-time consuming and measures the process of comprehension than one that is none of these but does provide the same texts and questions?

    47. Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted, (Teale, 2008, p. 188).

    48. Words of Wisdom by Tracey Cullen. If educators are serious about raising literacy levels, then student engagement, interest and motivation are critical factors in the equation.

    49. If we can develop and use comprehension assessment procedures that promote engagement, interest, responsive and critical thinking in the task of reading, rather than reflecting it as simple a mundane task where you read a text and answer questions, then perhaps students will view all reading tasks as engaging and motivating and respond critically and thoughtfully.

    50. Children learn to read by reading therefore if we want them to think reading is a meaningful, enjoyable, informative activity that they can respond to critically and positively, then we need to reflect these visions in our teaching and assessment methods.

    51. There is still much more to learn about how to measure a phenomenon that is as elusive as it is important (Pearson & Hamm, 2005, p 64).

    52. Side effect: privilege those with highest general verbal ability Snippets or textoids Side effect: privilege those with highest general verbal ability Snippets or textoids

    54. Did some work on number 1 Habits are important outcomes Scott Paris important work on constrained and unconstrained skills.Did some work on number 1 Habits are important outcomes Scott Paris important work on constrained and unconstrained skills.

    56. So how did we do in responding the the challenges from Valencia & Pearson?

    57. So how did we do in responding the the challenges from Valencia & Pearson?

    58. A note about readability There are so many factors that influence the difficulty of a text: student prior knowledge interest level of the student number and nature of new ideas or concepts the complexity of the text structure Students prior knowledge of the text structure the length and layout of the text Illustrations familiarity of vocabulary used length of sentences density of ideas uncommon technical terms use of idioms metaphoric language print size purpose for reading

    59. For over fifty years experts have been attempting to measure readability through more than a hundred methods, with children consistently proving most of the formulas wrong. Most of the formulas should not be used on passages fewer than three hundred words in length or on texts graded below seven years of age

    60. Assigning a readability level to a text can be only an approximation.

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