Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Diagnostic Assessments in Literacy

I have been working with a great group of teachers lately - our Section 23 teachers, who are responsible for programs which operate in non-traditional settings to service kids who are in group homes, expelled/suspended students, students in a residential rehab centre, etc.  Often, the students in these settings are with the staff for a short period of time and as such, the teachers need to quickly determine strengths, needs and next steps.
"...teachers in the school communicate with one another and with the administration to ensure, first, that literacy data gathering is both consistent across the school and/or board
and appropriate for the students’ literacy needs, and second, that assessment results are used on a school-wide and/or board-wide basis to help students achieve success in meeting the goals of the ... literacy program." (Ministry of Education, 2006).

We came together with the goal of creating common "intake" assessments in literacy, math, social-emotional health.  In literacy, we settled on a portfolio approach to a student's time in a given program: a student would complete a diagnostic assessment, complete some targeted work to either gain credits (perhaps ILC work, or school work sent from their "home" school) or to improve their literacy skills, and then the student would complete an exit assessment (which essentially is a repeat of the diagnostic to determine what changes had occurred). The portfolio of work would accompany the student as part of their transition to their next school.

The Ministry document, A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4 to 6, Volume 2: Assessment outlines the key purpose of assessment in literacy:

"Assessment supports and furthers the broad goals of literacy instruction, which are to enable each student:
• to become a strategic reader, writer, and oral communicator;
• to expand thinking skills (including metacognitive and critical-literacy skills), developing the necessary habits of mind;
• to deepen the motivation to learn;
• to develop independence as a learner."

One of the key challenges for these teachers is determining the appropriate grade level of work to assign students - where to start! In order to provide appropriate academic supports, the teachers recognized the need to identify not only their academic strengths and weaknesses, but also their social-emotional well-being, likes and dislikes. For the literacy assessment, we decided to focus on a mix of formats (online, written, oral), the reading skills of fluency and comprehension, and a written paragraph response.

The Literacy Diagnostic Assessment/ In-take:

Step 1: Self-Administered Questionnaire

Google Form (pen and paper OR can be done on computer)
  • Rationale: to determine students' likes and dislikes in reading and writing; to determine what kind of computer skills a student possesses (students would need to log in to the UG Cloud to complete the task, although paper copies will also be available).

Step 2: Oral / One-on-One Conference

a) San Diego Quick Assessment of Reading Ability : test of fluency/ vocabulary out of context to quickly determine a suggested reading grade level. Plus, since it's a one-on-one conference,

b) Miscue Analysis - readings provided in Ontario Comprehension Assessment (OCA) Student Success, Grades 9 & 10 kits
  • The Student Success kit provides both an explanation and readings to help beginning teachers complete a miscue analysis. Starting with the grade level indicated by the SDQAR, teachers determine which grade level reading (between grades 4-10) to conduct the miscue analysis. Essentially, teachers are able to use a system of symbols to codify a reading as the student reads out loud. For more information, check out the video below (ignore the crazy dog pictures!):

Step 3: Independent Tasks

a) Reading Comprehension - OCA kits, Student Success (gr 4 to 8), gr. 9 & 10
  • Reading level Selections (Laminated, included in kit) assess pre-reading , during reading and after reading strategies. The skills assessed include making predictions, identifying main ideas/ supporting details, inference/ drawing conclusions, supporting an opinion, and metacognition.
  • The success criteria and rubrics are embedded in the test to help guide students. Exemplars provided by the publisher, Pearson, and moderated marking of practice tests is part of the training of teachers. 
Pearson's Explanation of the Kits: 
"This resource links assessment to explicit reading strategy and skills instruction. Fully aligned with Ontario's key literacy documents, this resource:
  • Provides feedback on student use of comprehension strategies identified in Think Literacy: Cross Curricular Approaches 7-12
  • Aligns with the Achievement Chart categories and Language Arts/ English curriculum
  • Aligns with the OSSLT by assessing literal thinking, inferential thinking and making connections
  • Links assessment with "next steps" instruction, including specific links to Literacy in Action 7 & 8
  • Helps teachers link assessment to explicit reading strategy and skills instruction"

b) Writing Tasks 
  • short prompts / questions (provide choice) for paragraph
  • holistic rubric (main idea, supporting details, use of conventions)

Exit Assessment

a) Re-administer Google Cloud questionnaire

b) Re-administer San Diego Quick Assessment of Reading Ability

c) Complete second OCA reading comprehension assessment

d) Write another paragraph

Next Steps:

The tools we opted to use are mostly Canadian and link particularly well to Think Literacy so that teachers have tools to address the needs of students. It is extremely important to include moderated marking of the OCA in the training of staff:

“When teachers work together to consider the work students have produced, or listen to their presentations or analyse their electronic projects and so on, they bring the collective wisdom of all the people in the group to the exercise. More eyes (and consequently more brains) result in more reliable determinations of what students understand.” (Earl in Teacher Moderation)

The rich conversations about what constitutes success at each level is extremely important for staff understanding of reading comprehension. Once our educators have had some time to work with the assessments, we will revise the process as necessary before sharing with other groups such as Essential level teachers.


Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat (2007). Teacher Moderation: Collaborative Assessment of Student Work. Capacity Building Series Monograph 2. 

Ontario Ministry of Education (2006). A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4 to 6, Volume 2: Assessment. Toronto: Queen's Printer.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2006). A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction, Grades 4 to 6, Volume 3: Planning and Classroom Management. Toronto: Queen's Printer.

Tovani, Chris (2004). Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension Grades 6-12. Markham: Pembroke. pp 89-116.

Upper Grand DSB. (2003). Blueprint for Literacy: A Handbook of Effective Teaching Practices.

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