Changes in Reading Assessment

Significant changes are being made in the way reading and writing are assessed. Tests given to large numbers of students, even state and national reading measures, are moving away from the exclusive use of multiple-choice items to items that require students to actively construct and examine the meaning of reading selections.

Classroom assessment procedures, those used by classroom teachers on an ongoing basis, are also changing. Less emphasis is being placed on formal test measures, and more emphasis is being placed on teacher observations, samples of student instructional products, and student self-evaluation. Meaningful collections of such observations, work samples, and reflections are assembled into portfolios, which document student achievement and progress in literacy.

New Concept of Reading

Reading assessment is undergoing substantial changes in order to reflect changes that have taken place in the way reading is being defined and in the ways in which it is being taught. Numerous writers and researchers have noted that there is a substantial disparity between the way we now think about and teach reading and traditional tests of reading (Cambourne & Turbill, 1990; Johnston, 1984; Valencia & Pearson, 1987; Winograd, Paris, & Bridge, 1991). Increasingly, reading is conceptualized as a dynamic, interactive, constructive process requiring thought and elaboration on the part of the reader. Traditional tests that asked students to read short, artificially constructed passages and choose from multiple-choice responses, or that attempted to measure specific isolated skills, are seriously misaligned with recent theories of reading and recent curriculum developments (Haney & Madaus, 1989; Wolf, Bixley, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991).

Two terms that are currently being widely used to describe newer forms of assessment are performance-based assessment and authentic assessment. The two terms are closely related.

Performance Measures

In a performance-based measure, the student is asked to perform a task that is of interest to the evaluator rather than some proxy (Meyers, 1992; Shepherd, 1991). Thus, if we want to assess students' writing we ask them to write and do not ask them multiple-choice questions about punctuation and capitalization conventions. If we want to assess students' ability to read an expository article in order to gain new information, we ask the students to read a real piece of expository text and then ask them to tell or write about what they learned.

Authentic Tests

An authentic test asks students to perform desirable, valued tasks in a realistic, natural context. An authentic assessment task is one that could be worthwhile for a student to do as an instructional activity (Meyers, 1992; Wiggins, 1992). For example, if we are interested in students' full range of writing abilities, we should give them opportunities to produce drafts of their writing and also allow time for revision. If we are interested in students' ability to read an expository selection, we should allow them as much time as they need.

It is hard to imagine an authentic task that is not performance-based, but it is possible to think of performance-based measures, such as artificially time-restricted measures, that are not authentic.


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