How classroom-based assessments affected one teacher’s practices

iStock_000016934184XSmallStandardized tests provide a snapshot of a student’s comprehension on one day, according to a recent article in The Reading Teacher. But, classroom-based assessments measure a student’s often-uneven progress over time. A classroom-based assessment process can be an important complement to standardized measures by helping teachers to modify instruction to fit student needs and to give their students more valuable feedback on their progress, say the authors of this study of one teacher in a Wisconsin school district.

Study: “Assessing comprehension: A Classroom-based process,” by Judy Fiene and Susan McMahon, The Reading Teacher, February 2007, Vol. 60, No. 5, pp 406-417.

Conclusion: In a school district that developed a comprehensive, classroom-based assessment process for reading comprehension, the impact on one fourth-grade teacher’s instruction was significant. Classroom-based assessments helped her to gain insight into the students’ thinking while they were reading, get a more accurate impression of the capabilities of students who were not performing at grade level and develop a more accurate assessment of the skills of one student with a learning disability. They also helped her to develop reading comprehension goals for students.

Method: Researcher Judy Fiene spent a year investigating how a Wisconsin school district’s comprehensive, classroom-based assessment process influenced the teaching of one experienced fourth-grade teacher. Co-author Susan McMahon served as a consultant to the district, working to develop, evaluate and modify the assessment process.

Background: The district encouraged teachers to examine students’ specific, ongoing comprehension needs and to design instruction accordingly. Teachers applied a four-point rubric at least twice a year and district reading specialists worked with teachers to support ongoing assessment. The district encouraged teachers to provide differentiated instruction to students.

Main research question: How does a comprehensive approach to classroom-based assessment influence teacher practice?


-Essential to identifying students’ needs is monitoring their comprehension processes while reading.

-Teachers need to find ways of encouraging students to make their thinking and the strategies they are using visible.

-Strategic questioning is an important aspect of comprehension. Students should be taught that active readers question the author, the text and themselves during reading

-Asking students to take notes while they are reading provides a rich source of material for teachers on what students are thinking while they are reading.

Findings: Among the researcher’s observations:

  • One of the challenges teachers face is figuring out how to monitor students’ comprehension processes while reading. The teacher gave students sticky notes to paste their questions and comments as they were reading. To get a more in-depth look at student comprehension, the teacher asked students to use the notes as a basis for extended writing in a journal.
  • There were three dominant patterns to the teacher’s approach: She modified instruction based on the comprehension needs of her students, often modeled asking questions as one facet of comprehension, and stressed text structures through the use of graphic organizers. Graphic organizers, such as using
    separate columns to separate factual information, connections, opinions and the author’s craft, deepen a student’s understanding. They also provide the teacher with a level of understanding about student comprehension not possible with standardized testing.
  • With the classroom-based assessments, the teacher could see that one student with a learning disability was using new comprehension strategies sometimes, showing that she had the potential to make inferences. Another student who was performing at grade-level was raising questions in her reading notes that could not be answered in the text, potentially creating frustration for her. The teacher helped the student understand that some questions were her one questions and that the answers were not to be found in the text. An instructional focus for this student was to help her express her thinking more clearly and help her identify inferences in a text so that she could find answers to her own

From Assessment for Learning: 12 recent studies on formative assessment and aligning assessments with learning goals, published by Educational Research Newsletter August 2007

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