J. Paratore and R.L. McCormack (Eds.) (2007): Classroom literacy assessment: Making sense of what students know and do.
Classroom literacy assessment: Making sense of what students know and do
London: Guilford Press
The link between learning and assessment is, or should be, inseparable. The standards-based reform movement 'high-stakes testing' dominates the concerns of policy-makers in Australia, thus influencing the thinking of educational administrators. Yet, literacy teachers know that it is not assessment that improves learning, but how assessment is used to inform the teaching and learning process.
Classroom literacy assessment: Making sense of what students know and do is a comprehensive collection of articles which takes the reader through the assessment landscape. Divided into four parts and nineteen separate articles, it is both theoretically informative and practical, and would make a valuable resource for beginning or veteran teachers, pre-service teachers, reading specialists and administrators. Even parents would find the content informative and helpful.
The basic premise of the work is that 'keeping score' does not assist learning; using classroom assessment strategies wisely does. The contributing authors, while not classroom practitioners, have collaborated with teachers using extensive research to support their contributions. Each chapter has hands-on takehome ideas directly usable in any classroom environment. Well-informed literacy teachers using clear and straightforward strategies for implementing curriculum-based assessment is an essential element for good teaching, and thus effective learning.
While this book is not focused on Australian schools, the information is applicable to Australian classroom teachers. All articles are based on inquiry and the premise that the teacher does make a difference. They all adhere to the four fundamental principles that effective and constructive assessment:
* is situated in an authentic learning context and uses classroom-based reading and writing materials to inform judgments;
* is based on multiple episodes or images of students' performance;
* examines learning processes as well as learning products; and
* examines children's uses of literacy across varied learning contexts.
Part 1, "Foundations for trustworthy classroom assessment of children's literacy knowledge" (4 chapters), is unified through reflective practice. Whether universal (external), mandated school-wide, or teacher-guided assessment, the value to the teacher lies in asking questions about the resultant statistics, and seeking answers which inform the design, adaptation and adjustment of classroom practice. Authors in Chapter 2 suggest that a "backward mapping" process involving students can connect standards with assessment. Backward mapping is a process of verbalising the purpose and expectations of performance, and then anticipating what must be done/learned to meet that performance.
Part 2, "Assessing word knowledge and reading fluency" (4 chapters), makes sense of how children begin the reading process and develop into fluent and confident readers. Whether pre-school age or latent learners in secondary school, the complexities of word recognition may act as a barrier to accessing the meaning of texts. Chapter 6 links prevailing theories of word recognition development to strategic assessment processes. The framework proposed here includes screening, diagnosis, progress-monitoring and outcomes. Each can be embedded easily within the context of classroom literacy strategies. The complementary skills of writing (including spelling) are also covered in this part.
Part 3, "Assessing comprehension and composition" (5 chapters), identifies how the separate and individual skills of word identification must come together to enable comprehension on the one hand, and successful composing of inviting texts on the other. Chapter 10 makes a clear and credible case urging teachers to listen and look carefully at children's book talk and responsive writing/drawing. Understanding how the child approaches literature informs the teaching and learning process. Each of the authors of this section ground their claims in thoughtful review of research and theory. The proponents of strategic reading provide excellent examples which will help any teacher assess the critical and evaluative skills of emerging readers.
Part 4, "Broadening the context: looking across assessments, classrooms and schools" (6 chapters), relates directly to the educative process integrating assessment into authentic classroom activities. Assessment is not just for teachers. It must include the viewpoints of both teachers and students, otherwise the clear relationship between good assessment and good teaching gets lost. Authentic assessment is a reciprocal and interactive process of learning. These final chapters complete the full circle, bringing thinking about assessment back to the contextual situation in which the child, the teacher, and the school work together to maximise the learning outcomes for each student. Turning a test into a valuable resource requires professional knowledge and skill. It also requires the collaborative efforts of all involved--at classroom level, school level, and system level. Portfolios, self-assessment, snapshots of progress, reflective practice by student and staff, all contribute to the informed use of assessment as a strategy for growth and change.
Overall, Classroom literacy assessment: Making sense of what students know and do presents a toolbox of well-chosen, highly relevant, and practical articles on assessment strategies which are adaptable to most areas of the primary curriculum. Perhaps the inclusion of a wider variety of international authors would enable this text to be more influential in the English literacy landscape.
University of New England