There are many tools for tracking student progress in reading and math. But, how can you tell if students are making progress in content areas such as science and social studies?
One of the best formative assessments for measuring content-area learning appears to be vocabulary matching, according to recent research in Exceptional Children. Vocabulary matching can provide educators with both a static “robust” measure of student learning and also measure growth across the school year.
“These and earlier findings support the notion that a timed test of critical content vocabulary knowledge can serve as an efficient and effective present indicator of performance—a “vital sign” in a given area,” the researchers write.
The study found that the relation between vocabulary matching and the state accountability test in social studies was significantly stronger than for other curriculum-based measurements.
Researchers reported on 2 studies of vocabulary matching: In Study 1, 153 6th-grade social studies students from 3 middle schools completed 4 measures after taking the state accountability test in social studies, iLeap. Students from each school had the same social studies teacher.
The measures used were:
AIMSweb Maze, a 3-minute multiple choice cloze test. Students read short fictional passages and choose one of 3 words that best relate to the passage read.
AIMSweb CBM-WE, a story starter/writing prompt that is orally presented. Students are asked to reflect for 1 minute and write for 3 minutes.
Gates, vocabulary and reading comprehension subtests. Students have 20 minutes to answer 45 vocabulary questions and 35 minutes to answer 48 comprehension questions.
Vocabulary matching—A 20-item vocabulary test was developed from the 6th grade social studies textbook. Forty probes were developed from a list of 245 terms and definitions winnowed from an original list of 901 words. Researchers also created probes that included equal proportions of social studies terms from the fall semester and spring semester.
“Findings from the present studies add to literature demonstrating vocabulary matching’s viability as a progress-monitoring tool for content-area teachers in the middle grades,” the researchers write.
One possible exception in this pattern was for gifted or talented students. Researchers noted that the scores of one student in the small subgroup of 8 students may have influenced the findings that the measure was not as strongly correlated with the social studies learning of gifted and talented students..
“Additional Performance and Progress Validity Findings Targeting the Content-Focused Vocabulary Matching,” by Paul Mooney et al., Exceptional Children, 2013, Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 85-100.