Camera Lens for focusingELA Lens: Assessment

Effective ELA instructors include three broad types of assessment in their curriculum and instruction: diagnostic assessments, formative assessments, and summative assessments.

Diagnostic assessments are the tools and processes used, often at the beginning of a learning cycle, to discern students' current skill levels and the underlying issues that explain why students are performing at those levels. For instance, adult intermediate readers with the same silent reading comprehension score can have varying patterns of strengths and weaknesses (or “profiles”) in such subskills as word identification, oral vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension skills/strategies (Strucker 1997). Thus, in order to know specifically which subskills students need to develop, ELA teachers conduct formal (i.e., standardized) and/or informal testing in the essential components of reading (alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). 

Formative assessments are used within an ELA unit or lesson to see if students are grasping the targeted standards or objectives being taught. Such tools as exit tickets, reflection journals, and review of student work are formative assessments. Rubrics or checklists developed as part of the end-of-unit (summative) assessment may also be utilized before the end of the unit as formative assessments (for self- or peer review). Diagnostic assessments used to check progress in specific reading skills are sometimes considered formative assessments as well. 

Summative assessments include assessments that teachers use at the end of a set period of instruction (such as a unit) or an academic cycle (a quarter, a semester, a year) to identify what students have learned. Results from these assessments “sum up” student progress. Summative assessments in ABE can include standardized tests, such as the MAPT-CCR or TABE 11/12, traditional types of unit tests, or cumulative projects or papers, which are evaluated with rubrics or checklists. Some summative assessments (e.g., high-school credentialing exams, the ACCUPLACER) are considered “high stakes” because they act as gateways to employment and further education.

When making curricular or instructional decisions in ELA, ask the following questions:

  • Do the assessments target the specific ELA standards or objectives that are the focus of instruction in the lesson or unit (not just the social studies, science, or career topics being studied)?
  • How are results from previous diagnostic assessments informing the lesson or unit?
  • Are there a variety of assessments (both formative and summative) used across lessons and units?
  • Do students regularly have opportunities to demonstrate that they can apply ELA skills in robust, authentic tasks likely to be found in the workplace and in the community (e.g., creating newsletter articles, using social media, making presentations, composing letters)?
  • Do assessment tasks engage learners with digital technology?
  • Are expectations for performance articulated appropriately (e.g., through rubrics, checklists)?

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