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



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