I get messages all the time asking me what assessments I use since making the switch to the Science of Reading. But first, let's take a second to back up and track how we got to this point, shall we?
I taught first grade for 10 years back with Fountas & Pinnell weren't bad words, levelized readers were the norm, and phonics was boring and not given much thought. After 10 years in the classroom, I took a Mom break to stay home with my littles.
Soon after I left the classroom, the Science of Reading movement began in our state. I went through the same training my teacher friends did here to keep up my license.
Then, I took 2 long-term sub positions when my oldest started kindergarten. I got to try out SoR in resource and in kindergarten. That's when I officially said goodbye to guided reading, DRA assessment kits, and levelized readers. That's also when I really got to test out what works best for small group instruction in an SoR classroom. I started using our SoR aligned assessments to form groups and my kinders were making HUGE strides. Like nothing I had ever seen in my F&P classroom before.
Since then, I've adopted twins to keep me busy at home for a bit longer, while getting LETRS certified and working hard on learning more about what the Science of Reading looks like in the K-2 classroom.
PHEW! Lots of background info to say, these are my most favorite assessments I've used to help guide my Science of Reading instruction. (HINT: They're simple, about 10 times faster and OH sooooo mcuh smaller than the big old DRA kit! #iykyk And most of them you can get for FREE!)
Use PAST To Assess Phonemic Awareness
PAST stands for Phonological Awareness Screening Test. I discovered this one when I was teaching kinder and QUICKLY fell in love with it. It's fast. It's simple. And it tells sooooo much about kids and what they know about sounds. I even used this on my 2nd grade the year we homeschooled during CoVid.
What Is It? In a nutshell, PAST is like using Heggerty exercises to assess kids. If you are not familiar with Heggerty, (and you totally should be because it's the BEST way to teach Phonemic Awareness in primary grades), the PAST assesses kids by asking them to repeat words and then change them in some way: delete a sound, replace a sound, etc...
Why I Love It? The easiest part of PAST is that the teacher script is right there in front of you and it's two pages. I print my two to a page so it's all on one side. :)
But the BEST part of this test is it's FREE. Yep, 100% free. Just go right here and download the test and all the directions. So when ya'll have messaged me asking if I have a good PA assessment, I say no. Because this one is just so stinkin' good and it's FREE. #winning
How I Use It? Once I have assessed kids on PAST, I start recording where they fall on these recording sheets from my small groups teacher binder. Then, I can pull small groups to target their common Phonemic Awareness holes. In this example below, I would pull Justin & Whitney to work on PAST level K1 (deleting the second part of a blend). I would pull Cooper to work on level J (substituting middle short/long vowel sounds). And I would pull back Knox & Evelyn to work on level H1 (deleting beginning sounds).
Use DIBELS/Acadience to Assess Phonics
I've gotta tell ya'll. There was a time in my teaching career when I was in the throws of Fountas & Pinnell that I absolutely hated DIBELS. Like literally loathed it. It was a state mandated test for screening all kids and then tracking those below grade level every two weeks. I turned in the data on the state website every so often and never did another thing with it.
I think I disliked DIBELS so much because it was just another assessment on top of DRA and others we were already using to levelize kids and I didn't know how to use the data.
Fast forward to my immersion in the Science of Reading a few years ago and I started seeing real value in this assessment in kindergarten and beyond.
What Is It? Acadience (formally DIBELS) is a series of quick, 1 minute tests that assess letter naming fluency, segmenting sounds, blending nonsense sounds/words, and oral reading fluency. Acadience even gives you a little teacher booklet to organize all of your data. :)
Why I Love It? I love how fast Acadience is. In less than 5 minutes I can assess a kid in all the areas needed at that time of the year. I also love that it's easy to train a paraprofessional to do this testing in a pinch. (Although, I'm the weird teacher that loves to assess my own kids because I think it builds so much rapport and I learn so much more about them doing it myself.)
How I Use Is It? In kindergarten, I used this to help me pull groups of kids for letter naming. I kept track of when kids could ID uppercase and lowercase letters using our own school assessments for that. So, kids who knew uppers and lowers, but hit below the benchmark for letter naming fluency needed to be pulled to work on naming letters faster.
I also used this data to pull kids who were like this one in the example below. They could say the sounds of during the nonsense word fluency test, but they weren't really blending them to read them as whole words. So with these kids I would use small group time to target blending VC and then CVC words (real and nonsense.)
You can find the teacher booklets and student pages all here for free if you sign up.
Use Decoding Passages to Assess Phonics
When I was trying out all of these Science of Reading assessments during my kinder long-term sub job, what I found was missing was some way to identify how well kids could actually read once they knew letters and sounds. The district assessments (PAST and Acadience/DIBELS) were mostly for phonemic awareness and segmenting and blending.
Those are SUPER important. Don't get me wrong. But at the end of the day, we want kids to read words in context. And we need to meet them where they are. So, as I started creating decodable booklets and passages to use for extra practice during small groups, I also added a decoding assessment for each decoding skill.
What Is It? Decoding checkups are like running records for decodables. They assess kid's ability to decode using a specific phonics skill (short a, r-blends, -ing words, etc...) It ask kids to decode words in isolation, decode a short sentence, and decode a longer paragraph.
Why I Love It? I love that I can hear kids decode in isolation and in context. In the example below, Cooper is able to read individual words, but when those CVCe long a words are put in a longer context, his decoding skills decrease.
While Acadience does have an oral reading component, the words are just "grade level" and it is not written to hone in on a specific phonics skill. And that difference is a huge game changer when pulling groups. Acadience tells me if they are reading on grade level. Decoding checkups tell me what phonics sound is tripping them up so I can fill that gap.
How I Use Is It? So, I record their data on these recording sheets and fill the gaps that I find. I use these assessments as I teach our sounds whole group. If they pass that sound, great. If not, they get pulled with other kiddos to work on decoding that skill. And I recheck them every week or every other week to see how they are doing with that skill.
In this way, we worked through our phonics instruction, and I was assessing kids as we went through the phonics curriculum. I have also created this quick and easy phonics screener so you can screen your kids at the beginning of the year to get an idea of what sound to start practicing in groups. This would be helpful to get a quick handle on kids who are struggling from day 1 and how to help them quickly.
I also use this data to help kids color in their phonics level as they go on this thermometer. Kids keep this in their reading folder and it gives them a visual for what skills they are working on and helps us set goals on what to work on next.
Use Oral Interviews to Assess K-2 Comprehension
The biggest shift from DRA testing to Science of Reading testing is comprehension. The research from the Science of Reading tells us that if we want kids to comprehend what they read, they must first comprehend what they hear. So for primary students, oral comprehension comes first.
And we know that once they can comprehend a story read aloud AND can decode texts, they will begin weaving those two skills together to comprehend what they read.
What Is It? Oral interviews for comprehension look exactly as you would expect from the name. After reading aloud a book to the whole group several times, I pull kids back and ask them to retell the story. It doesn't even have to be the same day. In a time crunch, I would read the book on day 1, call back my higher kiddos to retell and then reread the book on day 2 and call some more kids back.
I use whatever graphic organizer we've been using to retell stories as a visual cue to help them organize their thoughts. The ice-cream scoop is one of the first ones I use because... who doesn't love ice-cream? The kids love this one and it's super easy to follow.
It's important to know that when I'm assessing this, the graphic organizer is in front of them, but I'm not referencing it or pointing to it. If they struggle, I will go back and give them cues, but then I'm noting that in my data.
Why I Love It? First, I always love having conversation with kids. It builds rapport and gives me a small glimpse into their world and how they see it. But it also tells me a lot about whether kids can sequence events, use transition words, use complete sentences, etc.
How I Use Is It? During the interview, I have the graphic organizer in front of the kid and this data recording sheet in front of me. I simply say, "Tell me about the book we read called, ______." I use this comprehension checklist to help me guide where the strengths and weakness are.
If they struggle retelling the beginning, middle and end, I stop. If they do that well on their own, I check off what else they add and then ask them other questions for some of the other skills like, "Who were the characters in the story?" or "What was the moral of this story?"
Once I have their comprehension checklist filled out, I can start using that data to form comprehension groups.
Want the comprehension checklist? Find it FREE here!
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