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



2 responses to “Is Assessment also an Inquiry?”

  1. lenandlar Avatar

    Reading skills are also very critical in this day and age given the sheer mass of information we’re exposed to and the need to cover more (or so it would appear). Sometimes I wish I could read faster, more efficiently and make sense of it all.


    1. Deborah McCallum Avatar

      I absolutely agree. It certainly is challenging for all of us to sift through the deluges of information that is available. No longer compartmentalized to static documents. I certainly feel the pressure to cover more to help our learners. But lately I am most interested in making sure students have a firm foundation of reading skills first. Thank you for your comment! Much appreciated! D;)


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