au courant

April 20, 2015 - Focus on Assessment

The important thing about reading assessment is that it investigates whether a student has skills and strategies for interpreting a variety of texts.

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Fountas and Pinnell Session

I hope Friday's session with Cheryl Gascoyne brought more clarity to the reasons we have moved away from using letters, numbers and percentages (especially in isolation) the last few years to represent the complexity of reading.

As Cheryl said, the letters/numbers are meant for the teacher, not the parents. This is not to say they can never be shared with parents, but the purpose/context matters.

The tools and strategies a student uses to comprehend text are secondary; they are only important insofar as they give a student the means for interpreting meaning from print. Therefore, when assessing students, determining the gaps in decoding skills allows for targeted intervention.

Anyone who did not attend the complete session on Friday will be expected to attend on another occasion, since it is a key piece of our assessment practices.

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Reporting to Parents/Guardians

The Teaching Quality Standard makes clear the expectations for teacher assessment and the communication of that assessment with parents/guardians.

The majority of the conversation with a student's family should focus on the child's ability to interpret text meaningfully. This would include comments on the specific strategies the child uses to comprehend (eg., visualizing) and story elements such as alliteration and metaphor.

When reporting to parents/guardians how a child is performing in relation to specific decoding skills, the conversation about strategies should address the gaps and specific actions taken to enhance the child's ability to understand print. This is where the diagnostic assessment comes in; it is designed to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

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Literacy Assessment "Tights" at JSM

1 - Students are to be assessed at their usual reading levels.

This has been stated several times in the past, but here's a reminder. It does not make sense to give every student the same level of assessment just because "at this time of year we like students to be at level __". If a teacher knows a student is reading above or below level __ , giving the student level __ assessment is pointless at best (too easy) and possibly even harmful (frustrating and demoralizing). The teacher's job is to assess where the student is rather than where the student isn't.

2 - At reporting times, reading assessment will include:

- Fountas and Pinnell or PM for English students (PM is the English counterpart to GB+)

- GB+ for French Immersion students (I am looking into the French counterpart of F & P.)

- the comprehension questions that accompany the books in the kits

- the miscue (error) coding as taught at Friday's session (We should all use the same coding system and vocabulary for ease of communication.)

- an analysis of the results for assessment and reporting purposes (Cheryl used the phrase "look for patterns" when interpreting reading results.)

3 - STAR assessment is not included as formative or summative assessment.

It is a broad screen meant to identify students who may have fallen through the cracks. It is extremely limited in its reliability and validity with regard to individualized assessment, so it should not guide programming decisions or be used when reporting to parents (unless they specifically ask for it, and the purpose of the screen is fully explained). "The purpose of a screening assessment is to identify students who are at-risk for reading difficulties. Identifying the students early on who are likely to struggle with learning to read is important as we can then develop intervention plans that, hopefully, PREVENT a life-long reading deficit."

4 - Assessment data should be "triangulated" so programming decisions are not based on limited information. The professional's range of data gathering (both formative and summative) overrides one test.

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assessment informs instruction - finding the zpd

Every teacher of young children should have a solid understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD requires us to ensure each student is reading material at his or her instructional level. Below or above that, and the student is not likely learning. Ensuring students are learning within their ZPD is the main reason teachers need to assess thoroughly and determine specific data.

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Good Fit Books

Cheryl brought up the need to teach children how to determine if a book is a good fit for them rather than teaching children to look for a 'level'. (The books at Chapters are not leveled.) We should have a conversation at some point about the red tubs and whether there is value in labeling books. Should be an interesting conversation!

Classroom libraries, borrowed books from the school library, anthologies, poetry, songs in print, themed books, and big books help round out the students' selection options.

Students should be working with a range of books within their instructional levels, not "kept" at one level until they hit 96% accuracy.

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Read, Write, Lead

Cheryl mentioned this book by Regie Routman on Friday. I just wanted to let you know we have it. It's available in my office along with several other books on reading assessment and intervention.

Student-leds - April 28, 29, 30

Please hand in your agendas by Wednesday, April 22. In order to take a day off in lieu of these evenings, each teacher needs to spend a minimum of 5.5 hours over the course of two of the three nights.

The following information is located in the Exemplar folder in Drive, but here is a slightly smaller version:

Criteria for Student Led Agendas

When we host our families in the school, we have an opportunity to show them the best of what we have to offer as educators and students. With this in mind, the following criteria were created.

In General:

  • Activities should represent the ELE's, in general, and the expectations of the curriculum in at least the four core subjects.

  • Students should be demonstrating what they can do on the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Later in the year (when student leds typically occur), our students should be able to show families how they can apply skills to problem solving, to making judgments, to doing experiments; to inquiry-based investigations, etc.

  • Asking students to demonstrate something memorized by rote not only does not require a trip to school by the whole family, it does not represent the most important aspects of education. Little emphasis needs to be placed on memorization anymore, because the Internet is at everyone’s fingertips. This does not mean nothing ever needs to be memorized, but student leds are not the place for simple regurgitation. Examples of lower level activities would include basic addition or subtraction (worksheets or simple games).

  • Activities should allow for success for all students. Open ended activities are the best way to provide opportunities for every child to be successful.

  • Avoid anything so labour intensive that most of the time will be used up doing that one activity. For example, some students might take a very long time writing "a story." It's easy to show parents one of their child's stories, so is there another aspect of literacy that can be demonstrated during the student-led?

  • Avoid anything that is likely to put a child into a state of anxiety. For example, if a child is not particularly capable of doing something, does it serve a purpose to demonstrate inadequacy to parents? (The parents would already have been informed by the teacher of the inadequacy and of his or her plans to address the gaps.)

Reading (Literacy):

  • Since we need to be expanding the understanding of literacy, why not give parents a chance to experience something with literacy other than reading a book. For example, have students read a poem they have learned in class and explain the metaphors in the poem and why the poet used them. Or, have students share some research they've done. Or, have some photographs on the table and have students interpret the picture (what is the setting/ who are the people? /what is their connection to each other?).

Differentiated Instruction
  • Students on IPPs should have activities at student leds that allow them to share in and celebrate their learning. In other words, they should be geared to their success as well as everyone else's.


  • Given the emphasis on technology integration these days, it would be good to represent the use of technology in your classroom as a tool for learning.


  • The emphasis should be on problem-solving. Students should be able to explain their understanding of processes and demonstrate their ability to apply skills and strategies to finding solutions in more than one way.

  • It would also be great for parents to understand some of the newer attributes of the program of studies. For example, metacognition, estimation, mental math, estimation, subitizing.


  • Avoid a simple sharing of worksheets that have been done in class. Whether your students are working on boats, rocks or colour, have them perform experiments, make predictions or hypotheses, measure, observe, sort and classify, and record and interpret their data. Families will enjoy their student-leds more if they are engaged rather than just shown.

Interview Requests

  • Make sure your families know they can request a one on one interview time beyond the student led experience.

  • If you have important information to discuss with any parents (ie., if their child is working below grade level), be sure you arrange to meet with the parents at another time, well before the end of the year. Do not rely on the student led experience to inform parents with regard to student assessment; they are not teachers and do not know what to look for in terms of assessment.

Further Suggestions

  • Have art displayed for students to show their parents. You might include the outcomes either in the display or on your agenda form.

  • If your students need to do a reflection on a project, you might want to include the project as a station and ask adults to scribe the students’ reflections. You get a personal scribe for each student, and you end up with a reflection page completed for your portfolios. Work smarter, not harder. :)

  • Figure out a way to limit paper consumption. Post the agenda instead of handing it out, for example. Or put task cards at the stations.

  • If you are going to ask questions of your parents (eg., Is your child able to represent a two digit number at least two different ways?), give them a way to indicate the answer to your question. Otherwise, what do you want them to do with the answer? What if the child can’t actually perform the task? The parents should have some way to record a response. For example,

    • Independently?

    • With support?

  • Consider giving students more than one activity in a subject area, and letting them choose the one they want to demonstrate for their families.

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