Is Assessment also an Inquiry?

Assessing reading ability is a very difficult task. This is because reading is very complex. What exactly are readers doing when they read? How do they understand what they read?

At this day in age, I think we are more aware that reading is one of the most important skills that we need. It is the foundation for all other subjects and many learning skills, and determines academic achievement in the future. In fact, Sammons, Thomas and Mortimore (1997) demonstrated correlations of 80% between reading at age seven and subsequent achievement scores.



The best assessments are those that help educators to make better instructional decisions. But before we can make any decisions, we need to start with our questions and hypotheses. What assessments do we need and why? Will one assessment strategy suit the whole class? Will I need 28 different assessment strategies for 28 different students? What needs do my learners have?

Literacy Assessment in and of itself is really a process of inquiry for teachers. We start with our questions, hypotheses, background knowledge of the learners. Next we begin a process of measuring our learning and deciding where to go next to answer our questions. We evaluate our findings, and make new inquiries. There is never just one question to ask, nor is there just one way to measure, one way to evaluate, or one decision to make. These variables are as complex as our students.

However, despite how complex assessment is, we still know there to be assessment strategies and tools that help learners to become better readers. How do we choose the most appropriate assessments? Each assessment strategy has its own function, and because reading is so complex, a range of strategies works very well. Strategies range from formal, to informal, and encompass assessment of,as and for learning.

Assessment for learning and formative assessments can be integrated into daily activities. It also works well for diagnostic purposes. Assessment becomes an integral part of our Inquiries into student reading.


Assessment Strategies

The following are but a few strategies that we can use for monitoring student progress in reading include

  • Teacher-Student conferences
  • Running Records
  • Learner Profiles
  • Portfolios
  • Word Recognition lists
  • Oral Reading
  • Retelling
  • Self-Assessment

This is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means. But it is a good starting point. I will not go into them all here, but will give a little more information about the importance of reading portfolios, because they have the ability to encompass all assessment opportunities.


Reading Portfolios are an excellent way to record classroom assessment information. Students or teachers can add to this. They can contain a wide variety of work related to student reading and are a purposeful collection of student work. They truly allow for a combination of assessment for, as and of learning. Owned by learner, told in learner voice, they are a great way to demonstrate knowledge, comprehension, fluency, and more. THey can be in video or audio format as well. A great way to gather information about reading needs, progress, difficulties. What items are least important and can be removed from portfolios. Portfolios increase metacognitive awareness and reflection, but students need to also understand the precise success criteria.


However, just as with the ‘Inquiry Process’, we start with our questions about our learners. What do they need? Where are they going? How will they get there? No easy answers, but definitely more questions and possibilities.



Some other important things to keep in mind about reading assessment:

  • Reflection about learning is important to informing how to procede with instruction of literacy skills
  • Use of technology for reading instruction calls for purposeful planning and critical assessment of student learning needs
  • Includes print, electronic, and other community resources
  • Implemented after ample teaching strategies that have helped students to make connections between learning and real life
  • Conducted in a collaborative and safe learning environment
  • Equitable and representative of different interests, cultures, needs and styles
  • Are communicated in meaningful ways with parents and guardians

Reading assessment is only valuable in how it reflects the reading strategies implemented in class. Ultimately, how will we use our inquiries about student reading to formatively assess students and prepare them for the culminating tasks?


Strategies that Support Reading Assessment: 


  1. A lot of pre-reading discussion
  2. Graphic organizers before, during and after reading
  3. Scaffolding comprehension texts – preview and discuss text features first
  4. Daily read-alouds and think alouds with a variety of media and texts
  5. Opportunities to make predictions and disucss in shared reading
  6. Explicitly teaching semantic, syntactic and graphophonic cueing systems
  7. Language-experience texts
  8. Subject-specific and cross-curricular reading materials
  9. Time for students to read each day
  10. Help students choose the just right book
  11. Small group work with English speaking peers
  12. Anticipation guides to assess pre-reading beliefs
  13. Make predictions in pre-reading based on visuals
  14. Make preditions based on first sentence, first paragraph, key text
  15. Adopt roles of different characters while reading Readers Theater Texts
  16. Create a story map or timeline as a visual representation of main features of the story
  17. Introduce music, chants, poems etc. to reinforce expressions and patterned speech. Keep a collection of them for re-reading.
  18. Read first language or dual-reading books
  19. Model how to skim and scan texts for pre-reading
  20. Jigsaw reading where each student becomes and expert on one section of reading and then shares
  21. Literature circles for opportunities for a student to share about a book
  22. Deepen understanding of text by taking on role of character in the hot seat


And as we move back to more questions, assessments, and strategies, we embark on new inquiries about reading and the reading proficiency of our students. Indeed, reading truly is the most important skills that our students can take forth with them into the future.

What inquiries are you currently asking about a learner or learners?



Deborah McCallum



Sammons, P., Thomas, S., & Mortimore, P. (1997). Forging links: Effective schools and effective departments. London: Paul Chapman.

Wu, R., Wu, R., & Lu, J. (2014). A practice of reading assessment in a primary classroom. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 4(1), 1-7. Retrieved from

Equity in Assessment

Research on multicultural groups including Black, Hispanic, First Nation, and ESL suggests that standards based reforms, large scale assessments, implementation of standards based reforms are unfair (Volante, 2008).

We run into problems when the big data is always used to prove what works in education, for instance, why we need Librarians, more standardized texts for guided reading, or to continue to teach from perspectives of dominant culture.

We need education that includes librarians, FNMI perspectives and multicultural approaches because that is what makes education work. That is what promotes equity and inclusion.

We should need education, FNMI perspectives, Librarians, funding and more because they promote equity with our students. Not because the high stakes testing shows that they support student achievement. We will only be able to achieve equity when we allow the variable of ‘equity’ to be a multi-dimensional construct. It is schools, families, and local communities that help close the achievement gap.

Do we need to have high-stakes standardized testing in order to compel schools to improve their instructional approaches? Is this really the only way?  We need to be careful that we are not assuming that standardized testing is anything other than an oversimplification of learning.

Those schools with more multi-cultural groups, and FNMI cultures, often feel compelled to narrow the curriculum just to boost test scores. Simply talking about how a standardized test is ‘culture-free’ or culturally relevant does not quite capture the challenges faced by different populations of people. It also only recognizes the test developers as the ones that can make significant changes to our tests to promote equity.

Also, traditional paper and pencil tests favour certain populations because it measures only certain skills and types of knowledge. We live in an era where we are trying to promote and recognize and acknowledge different types of knowledge. It just seems to me that standardized tests promote a ‘hidden curriculum’.

My point is that the curriculum can become narrow, and time spent preparing for areas of importance as deemed by high stakes testing.

Volante (2008) argued that assessment equity is a multifaceted construct based on technical quality, reporting, utilization and educational opportunity. I won’t go into those variables here, but I think that it is very important to know that equity is more than just the language and ideas on a standardized test. The fact is that our intentions and actual outcomes of these assessments are often incongruent, and the research continually demonstrates unintended consequences for Black, Hispanic, First Nations and ESL students (Volante, 2008). They simply do not do as well as their white counterparts. As a result, Multicultural and FNMI students are disenchanted or disengaged with school. Are we inadvertently limiting someones life chances just because of our obsession with standardized testing? Do we care more about schooling than education?

What if we stopped limiting our students and teachers by the language that we use, and gave ourselves permission to teach outside of the bounds of our standardized assessments? Curriculum definitely is more than our documents and assessments would have us all believe.

What does curriculum and assessment mean to you?

Deborah McCallum


Volante, L. (2008). Equity in multicultural student assessment. The Journal of Educational Thought, 42(1), 11-26. Retrieved from

The Formal Assessment of Literacy Skills


There are several key reasons that need to be involved with formally assessing student literacy:

First, we can gain key diagnostic information about the current skills that our students have. We also can glean key information about the previous knowledge and experiences of our students through meaningful diagnostic assessments.

Second, it provides opportunities for students to practice new skills and gain knowledge. These assessments can be the conduit to meaningful feedback for students to take their learning forward. It also helps us as educators to know where we need to take our learning next.

Finally, we hope that we can gain evidence to see if our students have improved over time, and gain evidence that we are in fact providing high quality instruction for learning.

Assessment strategies are also clearly defined in the Growing Success document as Assessment for, of and as learning.

Please watch the following video to learn more about assessment for, of and as learning:

However, in my experience, assessment strategies are not ‘stand-alone’ entities that we bestow upon our students to obtain grades. Likewise, quality assessment is not necessarily synonymous with quality ‘feedback’. I discuss this more in my new book ‘The Feedback Friendly Classroom’ set to be published this fall.


We need to be clear that assessment is an absolutely essential process that is more than just a cause-and-effect variable where students show what they have learned, teacher grades their work, gives feedback, and we move along to the next unit.

Assessment as, for and of learning is key for students and teachers alike. However, we need to make sure that it is embedded within a framework of ongoing and professional reflection and dialogue that informs our theory and practice of teaching literacy. This in turn provides key information for more purposeful planning of our literacy programs.


At this day in age, a lot of our purposeful planning also includes the critical and effective use of technology for literacy as well. This purposeful use of technology can be harnessed in ways that fosters social cohesion and collaborative communities of learners in safe, and inclusive and respectful environments.

Regardless of how we are innovating and evolving in the 21st century, we will always be in need for appropriate and equitable assessment practices, that are varied in nature, and conducted over periods of time. Preferably interrelated with other subjects, and with the 6 C’s as described by Michael Fullan in the NPDL global initiative. Essentially we need to provide key opportunities for diverse learners to demonstrate their learning. This can be done with well crafted assessment procedures.

We can think beyond the test and the worksheet to evaluate student learning. We are allowed to think outside of the box, we can be brave and be bold with our pedagogies for learning.


However, the strategies do not need to necessarily be technology based. At the heart of assessment for, as and of learning are ultimately relationships. Relationships help us to build meaning around the learning goals, and thus assessment strategies should also be holistic, and interpersonal in ways that don’t just support learning, but also support relationships around that learning. How you use the strategies in your particular context may also be more important that What strategies you use to assess.

The following is a thinglink that can be used as a guide for thinking about assessment for various literacy learning skills:


Harnessing Assessment strategies for Communication

We can harness technologies for continuous strategies for communicating with home and community. Technologies can include, but not be limited to ePortfolios, Blogging, Google Drive, email, and an app such as Remind or SeeSaw for sending regular visual and textual information about what and how students are learning in class. This is of course, in addition to regular letters going home, agendas, and ongoing communication in person and phone with parents.


Professional collaboration, including moderation, to support student learning.

The ability to meet with our colleagues is absolutely essential to keeping our assessment practices the highest quality they can be. This is a great way to re-calibrate our understandings of the assessment criteria, and what our students are doing to meet that criteria. Teacher moderation is a form of teacher collaboration for assessment purposes. It cannot be taken lightly. Though it is difficult to find time to engage in moderation, it is very beneficial for helping colleagues to obtain reliable assessment data.


What strategies do you use to assess literacy skills with your students? 

In your opinion, how does assessment inform pedagogy, and vice versa? 

Deborah McCallum

c 2016

Teacher Moderation & Assessment in the age of Knowledge and Innovation

I think it behooves us to ask ourselves whether collaborative assessment practices including moderation, is different now that we are headed into 2016 – versus what it looked like in 2006? The process of grading and assessing students is very subjective, and it always has been – but with so much information, technology, globalization, opportunities and access – can we still reach consistency with our assessments?

We know that the more people engaging and collaborating, the more accurate our assessments can become. When we reach a consensus, we are better able to fill the gaps in for student learning. We can create shared interpretations of the expectations and create a better culture of equity, consistency and reliability in all of our forms of assessment.

To me, however, this also means that we need to have more formal, concrete samples of student work to assess. Further, the classes also must be consistent in assessment for, as and of learning. Therefore, I wonder if this means that all teachers engaged in moderation need to be doing the same things with all of their students? To this extent, how does innovation, inquiry, and unique cultures play into the moderation process?

Certainly, honest dialogue about how we assess our students is vitally important, as is the ability to negotiate the assessment process with other educators. This leads me to ask, who or what is driving the learning? Is it students individual learning needs? Is it the curriculum expectations? Is it our need to have data? This of course then leads me to a host of other questions including, what is curriculum? All of these questions will have an impact on the assessment processes. Can we moderate vastly different sources of assessment data and still come to a consensus? If individual student needs are different between classrooms and schools, boards etc., can we all come to a consensus for moderating student learning?

It is that fine balance of variables that we need to negotiate how we asses – especially as we plan with the end of a chunk of learning in mind. Regardless of how we all end our units, are we all expected to achieve the same kind of learning? Is that even possible? Can we achieve high quality learning even with vastly different tasks?

Our next steps and goals should always be to take our students to the next level. But I am not sure if this looks fundamentally the same across schools, or if it even should. I certainly believe that we can engage our students in parallel tasks where they are working to similar learning goals but with different tasks. Each educational context will require its own unique blend of differentiated instructional strategies and universal design elements as well. We also need to ensure that we engage in purposeful planning for the critical and effective use of technology. I do believe that we all can reach similar learning goals even if we are ever expanding our teaching strategies. Likewise, I think that it takes skill to be able to conduct appropriate and equitable assessment and evaluation practices. Equitable assessment is varied and administered over periods of time to enable students to make important connections between the learning in the classroom and real life experiences. Regardless of how innovative we get, we still come back to the categories of achievement and levels of learning that we must apply on our report cards.

Now that we are nearing 2016, I am wondering if the research and ideas that dominated our views of assessment for, as and of learning in 2006, still apply in the same ways now that we have access to information and technology in ways that did not exist. Opportunities for globalization and new forms of collaboration and knowledge building exist now that did not 10 years ago. Can we, and should we be continuing to collaborate and moderate in the same ways that we have been over the past 10 years?

The fact is, collaboration is emotionally and intellectually demanding. In what ways does it need to be done in 2015/2016 that are different than in 2005/2006?

Deborah McCallum

Copyright, 2015