The Reading Matrix
Vol. 5, No. 1, April 2005

Assessment in the literacy classroom
Margaret E. Gredler & Robert L. Johnson
Pearson Education, Boston
(2004)
Pages: 216
ISBN 0-205-34426-7
Reviewed by Julia Weinberg

 

In the decade of No child left behind legislation and standards-based curriculum the book Assessment in the literacy Classroom provides teachers, administrators, and policy makers rich detailed descriptions of assessments that can be used in classrooms to promote academic proficiency for all students. Margaret Gredler and Robert L. Johnson, professors of Educational Psychology at University of South Carolina, provide a text with descriptions of literacy assessments that go beyond the more typical prescriptive explanations to include cognitively descriptive explanations of assessment selection, uses, advantages and disadvantages, analysis of results, and suggestions of research-based activities that support targeted learning goals in the classroom. The analysis includes descriptions of the assessments with an awareness of the cognitive development of the children not often found in texts of literacy assessment. As an elementary school reading enhancement teacher at a Title 1 School (80% of the students speak a language other than English at home and 95% of the student receive free lunch) and a university instructor, I found this book of great value for increasing the quality of specific and meaningful dialogue to communicate children’s strengths and needs for both practicing teachers and pre-service teachers.

Chapter 1, “Introduction,” discusses the communicative role of assessment and the assessment framework to link assessment with curriculum goals to promote listening, speaking, reading, writing, and visual literacy strategies. Chapter 2, “Effective Assessment in the Classroom,” provides a framework for reliable assessment within a meaningful context for the student with regard to the “authenticity of the task, representation of diversity, and self-assessment and collaboration” (p. 22). Chapters 3 – 7 present the development, implications for use, validity, and implementation of specific types of assessments including observations, teacher questioning, performance assessment of emergent literacy, retelling, writing, analytic and holistic student performance rubrics, and portfolio assessments. The descriptions include step-by-step guidelines and illustrative examples. One example of the many illustrations of the authors’ sensitivity to the child as a factor in the accuracy of an assessment is the discussion of asking a child to retell a story. The authors suggest that during assessment a child should be explicitly told the expectations – such as instructing the child to retell the story as if he/she were telling it to someone who has never heard the story before. Explicit instructions avoid any confusion that the child might presume; for example that the assessor has heard the story before so the child may not need to repeat all the details. Although this detail in instructions might seem small, children in a more concrete stage of development may not infer assessor’s meaning of “retelling.”

The book continues with more specific assessment related to children with special needs, including the developmental aspects of second language learners. Chapter 8, “Special Needs in the Classroom,” provides insights for assessing children, supporting needs in language (both English as a second language and non-standard English), cultural diversity, and developmental exceptionalities within the classroom setting. Chapter 9, “Diagnostic Oral Reading Assessment,” provides a guide for diagnosing reading difficulties and identifying appropriate text levels for independent and instructional reading. Chapter 10, “Reporting Student Progress,” provides very important frameworks for clear, accurate qualitative and quantitative reporting as well as for communicating student progress among teachers, providers of special services, and administrators. As one of the authors’ seven criteria for review of the methods for reporting student progress, accuracy depends on 1) a focus of assessment based on learning goals; 2) aligning assessment with focus; 3) ensuring that instruction provides opportunities to learn identified capabilities and strategies; and 4) ensuring that assessments provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning.

As a critical aspect of communicating student progress at the classroom level as well as with administrators and policy makers, Chapter 11, “Major Types of Published Assessments,” provides a framework and examples for reviewing published assessments of understanding, interest, and attitudes. The authors include norm and criterion referenced standardized tests and assessments that supplement published textbooks. . The authors suggest effective multiple-choice test items, most common in standardized tests, should include six major criteria: 1) a range of cognitive skills beyond recall of information such as the ability to analyze situations, synthesize information, make comparisons, draw inferences, and evaluate ideas; 2) focus on major concepts, not trivial details; 3) ask a question or establishing a problem; 4) have a correct answer and plausible alternatives; 5) avoid giving inadvertent clues such as absolute terms or leading grammatical structure; and 6) assess understanding of the concepts presented in a clear, not “tricky,” manner. The discussion of standardized tests includes definitions of published scores such as percentile ranks, stanines (a standard score of one to nine with five being average), and normal curve equivalents (NCEs). In addition, the authors discuss interpretations of the reported reliability within test items of an assessment, the reported validity of an assessment within the framework of instruction in the classroom, and the validity of the assessment score when compared to other literacy assessment scores for a particular student or group of students significantly differing from the norming group. The authors suggest that a valid assessment will result in a consistent representative pattern of similar results for assessment of similar concepts for specific students.

As a professional book, a textbook, a reference book in the classroom, or a book informing policy makers about testing in the classroom Assessment in the literacy classroom is a valuable resource for selection and implementation of meaningful assessment to be used for decision making in the classroom context as well as the effective communication of student strengths, progress, and needs among professionals. This book is also an excellent choice for pre-service and professional development learning experiences, providing content and examples for rich and meaningful conversations for discussions related to the progress and needs of specific students. Written by educational psychologists with a background in literacy and assessment, Assessment in the literacy classroom provides a unique child-centered awareness, which can help to provide a more accurate assessment of the needs of the child, and informs teaching that leads to successful literacy development for every child.

 

Julia Weinberg has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Nevada, Reno. She is currently on a one-year leave of absence from the elementary school to teach courses at the university in Educational Psychology and Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning. Her research is in the area of cognitive development focusing on the cognitive load on the brain as children learn increasingly complex strategies.