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Using Informal Assessments in RF. IRI. Michael C. McKenna University of Virginia. Sharon Walpole University of Delaware. Today’s Goals. Define informal assessments and describe their role in reading.

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Using Informal Assessments in RF


Michael C. McKenna

University of Virginia

Sharon Walpole

University of Delaware

today s goals
Today’s Goals
  • Define informal assessments and describe their role in reading.
  • Become familiar with a variety of informal assessment tools available to Reading First teachers.
  • Critically evaluate these instruments in terms of their usefulness to teachers.
  • Plan to acquaint teachers with the most useful.
back in school
Back in School . . .
  • Present selected informal instruments to teachers.
  • Help the teachers create a system for using these instruments to follow up DIBELS screening results.
what is an informal assessment
What is an informal assessment?

Informal assessment is defined as “appraisal by casual observation and other nonstandardized procedures”

– The Literacy Dictionary (IRA)

An informal assessment “is one in which teacher discretion plays a major part. The teacher, for example, may decide to modify how the test is given, based on early responses given by the student.”

– McKenna & Stahl (2003, p. 24)

characteristics of informal assessments
Characteristics of Informal Assessments
  • Criterion referenced
  • No strict rules for administration
  • No strict rules for interpretation
  • Reliance on teacher judgment
  • Subject to modification during testing
examples of informal assessments
Examples of Informal Assessments
  • A sight-word inventory based on an established word list
  • An inventory of phonics skills
  • An oral reading fluency test based on a current reading selection
  • An untimed letter recognition inventory, consisting of all upper- and lower-case letters
  • An untimed phonological awareness test comprising tasks at several levels

An informal assessment can serve as a diagnostic test if it identifies skill deficits. In GARF, an informal assessment would follow a screening test that has identified a weak area. The informal assessment breaks that area down into specific skills.

How do informal assessments fit into GARF?

some garf assumptions
Some GARF assumptions . . .
  • Assessments used in Reading First must have acceptable reliability and validity.
  • Many informal assessments possess these qualities.
  • Informal assessments are diagnostic when they can help teachers identify skill deficits to address instructionally.
coaches corner
Coaches’ Corner
  • To what extent are your teachers using informal assessments?
  • Which are most popular? Most useful?

An IRI combines a number of informal assessments of word recognition and comprehension. It can give tentative answers about certain questions. Let’s look at one …

What about informal reading inventories?

an iri contains
An IRI contains …
  • One or more sequences of graded word lists
  • One or more sequences of graded passages
  • Questions accompanying each passage
  • Criteria for interpreting comprehension and oral accuracy
an iri can provide
An IRI can provide . . .
  • Estimates of Reading Levels
    • Independent
    • Instructional
    • Frustration
  • Estimates of Listening Level
  • Information about Decoding Development

Overall Strategy for Giving an IRI


Independent Level

(usually by giving word lists)

Give Corresponding


Move Up

(continue to








But is an IRI reliable and valid?

A published IRI has many components. Some may be more reliable and more valid than others. It may be better for a teacher to keep a “toolkit” of informal assessments.

Let’s read about why.

Walpole, S., & McKenna, M. C. (2006). The role of informal reading inventories in assessing word recognition. The Reading Teacher, 59, 592-594.

Read this article. It critiques the traditional IRI and suggests some cautions and alternatives.

what have we learned
What have we learned?
  • What are some of the drawbacks of an IRI?
  • What do Walpole and McKenna see as the proper role of an IRI?
  • What is a chief way IRIs tend to “overreach”?
  • An IRI can screen in what four areas?
  • What “tools” should a teacher include in a toolkit of informal assessments?
let s plan
Let’s Plan . . .
  • Together, let’s examine sample reproducible instruments that we might include in a toolkit.
  • We’ll use four old sources:
    • McGee and Morrow (Kindergarten)
    • Lapp, Flood, Moore, and Nichols (Grade 1)
    • Paratore and McCormack (Grade 2)
    • McKenna and Stahl (K-3)
back at school
Back at School . . .
  • Decide which instruments would be useful at which grades.
  • Plan to present these instruments at grade-level meetings.
  • Explain their connect to screening tests.
  • Seek a commitment to administer the instruments, perhaps just one to start with.
  • Facilitate planning based on the results.

McGee, L. M., & Morrow, L. M. (2005). Teaching literacy in kindergarten. New York: Guilford Press.

McKenna, M. C., & Stahl, S. A. (2003). Assessment for reading instruction. New York: Guilford Press.

Paratore, J. R., & McCormack, R. L. (2005). Teaching literacy in second grade. New York: Guilford Press.

Tyner, B. (2004). Small-group reading instruction: A differentiated teaching model for beginning and struggling readers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Walpole, S., & McKenna, M. C. (2006). The role of informal reading inventories in assessing word recognition. The Reading Teacher, 59, 592-594.