For students to keep up with the increasingly complex reading called for in many new state standards, teachers have to keep on top of how quickly students grow comfortable with more difficult texts. But a new study in the journal Educational Assessment suggests whether a student is reading “on grade level” can vary significantly depending on what test teachers use.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley analyzed nearly 170 passages in four common elementary reading assessments: the Basic Reading Inventory, the Qualitative Reading Inventory, the Developmental Reading Assessment, and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS. They looked at how often passages used rare or common words, multisyllabic words, and those whose meaning changes by context.
All of the reading tests showed more complex texts as students moved from grade to grade, but the researchers found they changed in different ways over time, and some tests used more complex words and passages than others even within the same grade.
For example, DIBELS used reading texts that typically would be read at the end of the school year, meaning that its passages were on average more complex at each grade than the other three, the study found.
The DRA had slightly more complex test passages as students progressed through grades 1 to 5, and then “a large jump” to much harder text when students entered 6th grade. By contrast, the other three assessments made their texts more complex at earlier grades, and leveled off in later grades.
Taken together, that means a student who could read aloud on grade level at a school that used the BRI could suddenly fall behind if she moved to a school using DIBELS, the researchers noted:
Teachers and specialists who use classroom assessments for high-stakes decisions such as placement into special education services, need to be aware that different assessments employ different standards of complexity to gauge their passages even when they may be labeled as representing the same grade level."
You can check out the differences among different reading tests in more detail here.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.