Many teachers and reading specialists are currently busy implementing our Benchmark Assessment System (BAS). A recent conversation we had with an elementary principal raised some important questions about how to effectively implement the system. We hope these answers are helpful to those of you who are currently working to evaluate your students' reading abilities with the Benchmark Assessment System.
Question: There are two stories at each level, one fiction and one non-fiction. How do you proceed with the assessment when a student has read both stories at a level and is not ready to go to the next level. What text would be used with the student?
Answer: It would be a concern that a student reads both texts. Generally only one text is needed at a level unless something is very unusual in the child’s progress. . The benchmark assessment is not designed to be used to judge when the child should move to the next level. Rather it is an interval assessment. Ongoing assessment should include coding of the child’s reading on a regular basis not using the benchmark assessment but using the texts that are used for instruction.
If the benchmark assessment is used as an interval assessment which is the intention, that means it would be given at the beginning of the year and likely sometime near the end of the year. Sometimes schools choose to give it midyear only to students below level or to all students and at the far end it is given quarterly which is really too frequent. So a child would likely not be at the same level in a half year or even a quarter which would mean the child made no progress. If for some reason that is true, there is a second text or an alternate to use. Further, if there is an extreme case and the text was too hard the last time and now child reads it again it would be okay because it was too difficult for the child last time and the assessment stopped.
Question: Although the Assessment guide states that the pairs of texts at each level (fiction and non-fiction) have been matched and if a student can read one genre he is likely to be able to read the other. The teachers have found that the non-fiction texts are more difficult and if a child has read the fiction text at an independent level and is then given the non-fiction text at the same level, he reads this at an instructional level or it is too hard. How do we note progress using the different genres?
Answer: We would not suggest administering the assessment that way. If your students are doing less well on nonfiction it is a reflection of the instructional program and you should use more nonfiction in the teaching of reading. Benchmark assessment is a standardized assessment. You should alternate a fiction at one level and the nonfiction at the next level. Disregard how you think the students may do in various genres. The same variance could happen with historical fiction vs. realistic friction vs. fantasy or a student could read one topic better than another. That is not the purpose of the assessment. Rather you want to sample the reading across increasingly challenging levels to get a good place to start teaching. When you begin teaching you can move a child up or down a level based on your ongoing observations and your ongoing coding of the reading. Benchmark assessment is a sampling to get you to a good place to start.
Question: The assessment guide mentions interim running records, are there specific texts for this purpose? (We are in the process of developing benchmark texts for interim running records, but will not have them ready for a few months.)
Answer: We would not suggest developing benchmarks for interval assessments. It would be doing double the work and not getting as good information. Rather simply listen to the child read 100-150 words of the text used for instruction the day before and have a brief comprehension conversation to examine the effects of the teaching. That is the purpose of interval ongoing assessment- to see how the child is responding to the instructional program.