Reading and writing are very broad topics. What should be assessed and how often?

This question is quite complex so let's break it down into two parts: learning to read and write and learning from reading and writing. The learning to read and write is basically the Kindergarten through Grade 2 program and the learning from reading and writing is grades 3 through 5. Let's look at each area separately.

Learning to Read and Write (Grades K-2): In the learning to read and write there are four basic areas that require purposeful instruction and assessment: print conventions, word recognition (includes oral fluency, cueing strategies, sight vocabulary, phonics, word analysis), comprehension, and writing development.

Print conventions refers to the arrangement of text on a page, text features such as punctuation and boldface type, book handling skills, and overall concept of how to approach the reading act. Therefore, such things as which direction to read, where is the title of the book, what is a period, and why is that print in bold, are all-important aspects to teach and assess.

In assessing print convention skills, Clay (1991) explains that students should know:

  • the concepts of letter, word, picture and sound
  • the concepts that letters make up words and words make up sentences
  • the meanings of punctuation marks
  • how positional words, such as first, last, beginning, and end, apply to print, for example, how to identify the first letter in a work or the first word in a sentence.

Word recognition is a huge topic for K-2 because it involves how well does a child read, use reading strategies, and remember words. The cueing or reading strategies are complex for students to learn and apply as they read. Children need to understand that have to use the pictures, structure of the language, meaning of the text, and sounds in words to read text. Students need to learn words so that they will not have to decode every word they encounter. Reading with expression and meaning is a key skill in reading.

Comprehension or understanding the text is the primary purpose of reading. Students require an understanding of how to silently read and understand, to make connections to themselves as they read, to make connections to other books read and to make connections or apply their learning to world perspectives.

Writing development involves learning the letters of the alphabet and how to write them. It also involves writing down what they say and replicating written text in their writing. Spelling words and mechanics of writing are also important.

Learning from Reading and Writing (Grades 3-5): In the learning from reading and writing, there are four basic areas that require purposeful instruction and assessment: word recognition (includes oral fluency, word study, word analysis, technical vocabulary), comprehension/study skills, genre specifics and writing.

Word recognition involves primarily the study of vocabulary or words. This study includes affixes, multiple meanings, origins of words, and content subject vocabulary or technical vocabulary. It also involves expressive, meaningful reading.

Comprehension/study skills is a critical area to the learning from reading and writing in Grades 3-5. Comprehension involves making connections at the literal, interpretative and application levels in reading text. It also involves understanding literary elements, text patterns, text organizations, and author's purpose. For study skills, understanding resource aids such as glossary and index and note taking skills are important.

Genre specifics involve the understanding of all the various types of genres, their purposes and organization. It also involves the features and elements of the various genres.

Writing becomes more involved at these grade levels. Mechanics, organization, language, and sentence structure are the key elements in writing. Students need to understand the appropriate style, organization, and format for a specific purpose or intent. They also need to learn how to develop their writing based on purpose and audience. Creative writing, response writing, expository, and narrative writing are all important to writing at this level.

The second part to this question is how often should students be tested. Students need to be tested as often as a teacher needs to evaluate their learning for more effective instruction. It is usually a minimum of once every ten weeks for all areas. However, for some areas like oral fluency, the teacher will want to assess more often.