Methods of Assessing Cognitive Aspects of Early Reading Development

S. Wren, 2002 SEDL


If all children are to become successful readers, teachers need to become extremely sophisticated and diagnostic in their approach to reading instruction. To help teachers develop a sophisticated understanding of the cognitive development that takes place as children learn to read, SEDL has created The Cognitive Foundations of Learning to Read: A Framework. This framework describes in some detail the various cognitive domains that research has shown to be necessary for reading acquisition, and it also illustrates the interrelationships that exist among these various cognitive domains.

In addition to understanding what is important for all children learning to read, it is also very important that teachers understand how to assess individual children’s development in each of the cognitive domains described in the framework. Assessment should always inform instruction. Individual children come with such diverse backgrounds and skills that it is necessary to cater their instruction to their individual strengths. Ongoing assessment is necessary to discover each child’s reading instruction needs.

There are a variety of approaches that can be used to assess early reading skills, and teachers should be familiar with the different approaches commonly used to assess early reading skill development. To assist teachers in their assessment of the reading development of their students, common approaches for assessment for each of the cognitive domains outlined in SEDL’s framework of reading acquisition are described in this paper. This description of the various assessment techniques can be used to help teachers to design their own classroom assessments, and may help teachers to better understand the district or campus assessments that are already being used with their students.

Certainly “reading assessments” should not be strictly restricted to the cognitive development of each child — it is important to also assess other, more affective aspects (such as motivation, enjoyment, interest and habit), as well as situational aspects (such as availability of appropriate literature and home support). The assessment approaches described in this paper focus on the cognitive development that research has shown to be important for developing early reading skills, but teachers are advised to use a broader sample of assessments to inform their instruction.

Before examining these assessment descriptions, it may be useful to take some time to familiarize yourself with SEDL’s framework of reading acquisition ( Because the framework provides a useful guide to inform both instruction and assessment, it makes sense to use it to inform the current discussion of assessment approaches.

Referring to the framework, we will begin with the “top three” elements on the framework, reading comprehension, decoding, and language comprehension. Then we will move to a description of assessments that are commonly used for the various cognitive domains that support language comprehension (background knowledge, linguistic knowledge, phonology, semantics, and syntax). And last we will discuss assessment approaches commonly used for the cognitive domains that support decoding (cipher knowledge, lexical knowledge, phoneme awareness, letter knowledge, knowledge of the alphabetic principle, and concepts about print).

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Reading Comprehension: Nature, Assessment and Teaching

24 Apr 2012 – Snowling,Margaret. A1 – Cain,Kate. A1 – Nation,Kate.


The goal of reading is understanding. In order to understand print, a child must be able to decode the words on the page and to extract meaning. A large body of research focuses on how children learn to decode text and how best to foster children’s decoding skills. In contrast, we know much less about the process of reading comprehension in children. In this booklet we first consider what is required in order to ‘read for meaning’. We then move on to discuss children who have difficulties with reading comprehension. Our aim is to enable teachers to assess individual differences in reading and to foster the comprehension strategies that characterize fluent reading.

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Guiding Classroom Instruction Through Performance Assessment

Journal of Case Studies in Accreditation and Assessment, Carol Oberg, University of La Verne


“Teachers, make it your first task to know your students better, for you surely do not know them” (Jean Jacques Rousseau in Ellis, 2001, p.67). Today’s classrooms provide unique challenges for teachers. Teachers must know content matter as well as state standards. They are accountable to multiple constituents: students, parents, administrators, and community members, and are expected to demonstrate appropriate yearly progress. Teachers of special needs students are expected to teach to state
standards while aligning students’ IEP goals to these standards. In addition, district assessment demands may consist of exit exams, district benchmarks, and high stakes state assessments, often times with results made public. Teacher accountability, student achievement, progress monitoring, and analyzing testing data are key phrases in today’s educational culture. Our educational system is driven by student outcomes as measured through standardized assessments.

Today’s pluralistic, inclusive classrooms demand a sharp lens of understanding and awareness from our teachers to reach and teach all students. This lens must serve as a microscope to magnify teachers’ understanding of individual student’s talents and skills as well as a stethoscope to listen deeply to their students’ daily experiences, unique interests, and individual dreams. In short, teachers need to know their students to teach them and align “thoughtfully directed curricula” to them as much as to standards (Stanford & Reeves, 2005). They must carefully consider not only what to teach, but also how to teach and how to assess.

When teachers are fully informed about their students, they are better prepared to make appropriate instructional and curriculum decisions, and adapt, as necessary, their teaching practice to ensure success for all students. To learn about their students, teachers must rely on data collected from their students through a variety of methods. Student data must be rich enough in detail and breadth to provide teachers with necessary information to connect instructional strategies to their needs and skills. These data must provide information about students’ current ability and knowledge within the subject matter as well as information about students’ interests, learning styles, and pace.

Assessments used to collect student data for both information and diagnostic purposes are termed pre-assessments. Pre-assessment helps teachers “front load” their lesson preparation by utilizing knowledge (data) about students in the instructional planning stage. However, traditional pre-assessments such as paper-pencil tasks or question and answer formats may leave teachers “data-deprived” as they offer limited information about students. Performance assessments, on the other hand, offer a variety
of ways for students to demonstrate what they know about content, as well as elucidate students’ additional skills sets within the classroom. These additional skills are related to attitude, creativity, ethics, perseverance, honesty, teamwork, sense of fair play, and many other behaviors and dispositions needed not only in the classroom, but also in the work force (Sternberg, 2007). When performance assessments are added to teachers’ current repertoire of pre-assessment tools, they help refine teachers’ knowledge of their students so they can create robust, motivating lessons attuned to their students’ strengths and needs.

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Why develop thinking skills and assessment for the classroom?

Welsh Assembly Government, 2010


The ability to learn and apply new skills effectively throughout our lives is a fundamental requirement for today’s generation living in an increasingly technological driven world. Successful lifelong learners need the ability to learn, whether in school, the workplace or at home. The information revolution and the restructuring of jobs and working lives continues to make an ever­growing impact on the relevance of traditional knowledge, subject content and skills currently taught in schools today. It is imperative, therefore, that teaching pedagogy is reviewed and updated, alongside the current National Curriculum Review, in order that learners have experience of, engage in and master the skills demanded of today’s citizens.

Teaching learners to become motivated and effective learners is a primary role of teachers. It could be argued that until now, the process of learning as a skill in its own right has generally been of secondary importance to the learning of subject knowledge and key facts. As evidence from scientific research and classroom practice have been increasingly aligned and interwoven, a number of barriers have been overcome. The most notable advances have been in the fields of developing thinking skills and assessment for learning.

The development programme for thinking skills and assessment for learning aims to focus on addressing these issues and ultimately support more effective learning.

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Researching citizenship

R. Etienne, 2007, London Metropolitan University


An interesting  booklet on how we connect co-operative learning and co-operation with practice-based research. Read it here: