This study investigated special educational needs (SEN) teachers’ assessment practices and the accuracy of their ratings of the students’ skill levels in reading fluency and reading comprehension. Results showed that SEN teachers used several assessment practices simultaneously but mostly relied on observations. Only two-thirds of low-performing students having difficulties in fluency or comprehension were identified.
Authors: Riitta Virinkoski, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, Kenneth Eklund & Mikko Aro
Source: Virinkoski, R., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Eklund, K. & Aro, M. (2020). Special education teachers’ identification of students’ reading difficulties in grade 6. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, DOI: 10.1080/00313831.2020.1833241
This study investigated special educational needs (SEN) teachers’ (n = 29) assessment practices and the accuracy of their ratings of the students’ (n = 55) skill levels in reading fluency and reading comprehension. Results showed that SEN teachers used several assessment practices simultaneously but mostly relied on observations. The correlations between the teacher ratings and test scores were significant but moderate in fluency and weak in comprehension. Only two-thirds of low-performing students having difficulties in fluency or comprehension were identified.
- In addition to classroom teachers, special educational needs (SEN) teachers and remedial reading teachers play an essential role in evaluating students’ needs for reading support, identifying literacy difficulties, and providing individualised targeted support.
- This study focuses on Finnish SEN teachers and students receiving part-time special education in the sixth grade.
- Some students’ reading difficulties (RD) may not manifest themselves in the early school years but might emerge later and become persistent.
- Although identification of students’ RD during primary school has been widely studied, research on teachers’ assessment of RD and the accuracy of their assessments before students transition to lower secondary school (i.e. at the end of Grade 6 in the Finnish educational system) is still limited.
Teachers’ assessment practices
- Teachers use formative (or informal) assessments to collect data on student’s current skills or to improve student’s learning by implementing more personalised instruction.
- Assessment tools can be defined as high-stakes or low-stakes.
- The former is connected to the final assessment of how much the student has learned at a certain assessment point, usually in the end of an instructional segment (such as a semester).
- The latter refers to low-stakes continuous instruction comprising assessments before and during instruction.
- Generally, teachers’ assessment practices can be divided into tests, curriculum-based measures (CBMs), and qualitative assessments.
- Direct measures refer to tests.
- The accuracy of teachers’ ratings of reading fluency and comprehension through observation is low in comparison to the identification of low student reading performance using CBMs and standardised achievement tests.
- CBMs can be used in general, remedial, and special education to monitor students’ progress in overall school performance, for example.
- Using CBMs in conjunction with standardized procedures to track students’ reading development can lead to higher identification accuracy of struggling readers as well as improvements in reading achievement.
Assessment of reading fluency and comprehension
- One key factor in learning to read fluently is automatic word recognition, which develops through consistent practice, repetition, and reading a wide range of various texts.
- Reading fluency comprises decoding accuracy and automaticity, both of which are connected to reading comprehension.
- One common definition of reading fluency includes reading accuracy and rate, and reading fluency is usually operationalised as the number of correctly read items within a time limit.
- Reading comprehension requires word recognition (i.e. decoding), language comprehension, inference making, and information integration.
- Some examples of common measures to assess reading comprehension are silent reading tasks, either written or oral retell tasks, and picture matching tasks.
Associations between teacher ratings and test scores
- Sensitivity of an assessment tool (i.e. its accuracy in identifying students with problems) has usually been considered important so that support can be allocated to those students who need it most.
- Specificity refers to the accuracy of an assessment tool to correctly identify students who are not at risk.
- An acceptable level of classification accuracy for sensitivity is 90% or above and for specificity 80% or above.
- Despite relatively high overall correlations between teachers’ ratings and students’ actual test scores, teachers may systemically over- or underestimate students’ performances.
- Students with low academic performance are usually judged less accurately than typically performing students.