The aim of the study was to investigate what kinds of assessment practices classroom teachers and special educational needs (SEN) teachers use in assessing first grade students’ pre-reading skills (letter knowledge and phonological skills). Most classroom teachers used qualitative assessment and SEN teachers also relied on tests. The findings underline the importance for developing more specific and reliable assessment tools for pedagogical purposes.
Authors: Riitta Virinkoski, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, Leena Holopainen, Kenneth Eklund & Mikko Aro
Source: Virinkoski, R., Lerkkanen, M.-K., Holopainen, L., Eklund, K. & Aro, M. (2018). Teachers’ ability to identify children at early risk for reading difficulties in grade 1. Early Childhood Education Journal, 46(5), 497-509. DOI: 10.1007/s10643-017-0883-5
The aim of the study was to investigate what kinds of assessment practices classroom teachers and special educational needs (SEN) teachers use in assessing first grade students’ pre-reading skills (letter knowledge and phonological skills). The data from two Finnish longitudinal studies were used: JLD sample (class teachers, n = 91; SEN teachers, n = 51; 200 students) and First Steps sample (class teachers, n = 136, SEN teachers, n = 34; 598 students). Most classroom teachers used qualitative assessment, and SEN teachers also relied on tests. Although teacher ratings correlated with the test scores, some children in need of extra support for their early reading development according to test scores remained unidentified. The findings underline the importance for developing more specific and reliable assessment tools for pedagogical purposes.
- Teachers play a key role in identifying the need for early support in reading skill development because they generally observe the first signs of reading difficulties (RD).
- The main purpose of teachers’ evaluations of students should be to produce accurate knowledge of the students’ skills in order to plan tailored instruction and support when necessary.
- Particularly, children with poor pre-reading skills who are potentially at risk for reading difficulties (RD) should be identified as early as possible.
- Prior studies have shown that screening batteries and standardized achievement tests predict those at risk for reading failure better than teachers’ evaluations based on, for example, rating scales, whereas teachers’ evaluations have tended to produce high false-negative rates.
Assessment of pre-reading skills by teachers
- To ensure accurate identification, the screening batteries should cover several skill areas related to developing reading skills, such as phonological skills, orthographic and letter knowledge, word reading ability, vocabulary, and syntactic ability.
- However, the accuracy of screening measures differs with respect to sensitivity and specificity.
- Sensitivity refers to the degree of true positives, meaning how accurately the measure identifies students at high risk for RD.
- Specificity refers to the degree of true negatives, or how accurately the measure identifies students at low risk for RD.
- Teachers’ assessment practices can be divided into three categories: tests comprising screening or individual test batteries (performance-based assessment), curriculum-based measures (CBM), and qualitative assessments such as observations in the classroom.
- CBM may be used to monitor students’ progression in an entire school or classroom, to track an individual’s progress toward end-of-year benchmarks or individualised education program goals.
- Teachers’ decisions seem to be sometimes based on situational or other irrelevant factors (e.g. gender, behaviour) instead of solely performance assessments.
Correspondence between teacher ratings and test scores
- In most studies, the correlations between teacher ratings and test scores have varied between 0.40 and 0.70.
- Teachers may, however, systematically over- or underestimate student performance.
- Flynn and Rahbar (1998) developed a theory-based screening instrument for teachers to assess reading competency, and their results suggest that teachers’ predictions of children at risk for RD can be improved by using rating instruments that include research-validated antecedents of reading with behavioural descriptions of low and high achievement.
- The best predictors of a pre-schoolers’ or kindergarteners’ later reading achievement when the child has a familial history of dyslexia have proven to be measures that require processing printed material together with oral language proficiency measures and performance-IQ measures.
- Compared to teacher ratings, standardized tests more accurately identify students who are potentially at risk for RD in future.
Learning to read in Finnish
- Finnish children attend kindergarten at age six, and reading instruction begins at age seven when they enter first grade.
- Upon entering school, letter knowledge seems to be one of the best predictors of reading and spelling accuracy in the Finnish language.
- The Finnish orthography is almost purely phonemic: the grapheme-phoneme correspondences are regular and symmetrical at the level of the single letter, and early reading instruction in Finnish almost uniformly rests upon synthetic phonics.
- Finnish students who struggle with reading do not typically have problems with reading accuracy but do experience persistent problems with reading fluency.
- In the case of RD, the forms of support are remedial teaching during or after school by the class teacher, part-time special education given by the SEN teacher individually or in small groups during school days, or co-teaching by the class teacher and the SEN teacher during normal literacy lessons.