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A is for Assessment: Considerations for linking assessment and instruction

Educational researcher Rachael Gabriel notes that a truly scientific approach to reading would acknowledge that “each student will require different kinds and degrees of support for component skills and the many processes of literacy” (Gabriel, 2021). But how do we uncover the kinds and degrees of support that will be most effective for individual students? Our best shot starts with assessment that is authentic, asset-based, actionable, and anti-racist. Think of these characteristics as a framework, wherein each facet supports the other in the development of responsive teaching.


Sensitive observation requires understanding the complex and dynamic aspects of what a student brings to the real tasks of reading and writing. Reading and writing are best understood by closely observing the student in the authentic act of reading and writing continuous text. I often think of teaching my kids to drive when I think of this kind of assessment. We teach them to drive by driving. Yes, they study the manual, but the real learning comes from driving, a lot, with supervision, in places and situations that demand increasingly complex decision making. There is no substitute.


Think about what the child brings to the assessment as assets. An asset-based lens increases motivation, builds independence, and improves outcomes.  Assessment should not be about a score or a threshold, or a grouping. Assessment is about what the child understands right now and how to build on those understandings. What message are your assessments sending to students? How are they learning from assessments? 


Assessment provides a hypothesis about where to start instruction. To create such a hypothesis, look for patterns in the data. Insights from observations of reading and writing can be linked to specific, precise behaviors and understandings in the The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. Which behaviors and understandings might be appropriate to address with the whole group, a small group, or individual students? To be sure, the decisions made based on assessment information must be tentative and continually revisited in light of new observational information. It requires an open mind and a willingness to see things that may not conform to what was previously observed. No assessment is the final or comprehensive word on a student. Hypotheses exist to be tested and revised.

Anti-racist and anti-biased

Anti-racist and anti-bias work includes assessment and its link to instruction. When we think of bias in assessment, it is often in the context of whether we are using standardized procedures to reduce differences in administration. But, it is important to consider the much larger question of how our assessments and the system in which they are used may reflect or even propagate bias and racism in our school. For example, emerging bilingual and multilingual students may score lower on some standardized assessments. If this performance is misinterpreted as a lack of analytic skill or intelligence rather than a lack of experience with English language construction or vocabulary, a cycle of low expectations and low outcomes can easily begin.

Getting away from the deficit view of learners is one step toward anti-racist and anti-biased assessment, but it isn’t enough. Are the assessments themselves actually valid for these learners (meaning do they measure what they intend to measure)? Anti-racist and anti-biased systems of assessment continually embrace broad conversations about the links between assessment and success for all students.

What next?

Peter Johnston reminds that our “assessment practices must help produce learners who are resilient and view literacy learning, rather than performance or ability, as their priority” (Johnston,  2005). Helping students lead literate lives means making it our priority as educators to offer instruction informed by the best possible information, building on each students’ existing understandings, and linking them to effective teaching, while critically reflecting on unconscious bias at all levels.

If you would like to learn more about linking assessment and instruction, the online course “Linking Assessment & Teaching: Reading, Writing & Word Study K-8” begins soon and we will explore these and many other ideas.


Gabriel, R. (2021). The Sciences of Reading Instruction. EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP78(8), 58-64.

Johnston, P. (2005). Literacy assessment and the future. The Reading Teacher58(7), 684-686.

Extra! Extra! Repeated Reading Builds Fluency

Throughout my educational career – from special education teacher to reading interventionist to classroom co-teacher – I loved the point in the year when a struggling reader “took off.” Seemingly out of the blue, a student would suddenly become a much more fluent reader. When a student entered this stage of their reading development, their rate and accuracy increased dramatically and they were able to confidently and quickly traverse whole paragraphs, even when some sentences were difficult.

For decades reading research has shown us that reading fluency – the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate, and with proper expression and phrasing – is essential to reading comprehension (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Stevens, Walker, & Vaughn, 2017). One especially effective and efficient practice that builds students’ reading fluency is guided repeated reading. The activity provides less skilled readers with the opportunity to hear a model of fluent reading and then practice the same passage in a way that minimizes errors. Additionally, reading aloud with others (often with the teacher) builds confidence, lessens the stress of reading independently and supports any student who feels shy or nervous about reading out loud.

Capitalized Repeated Reading

Repeated Reading is the specific (and thus capitalized) routine pioneered by researcher Jay Samuels. It has been shown to be effective at improving the oral reading fluency of elementary students, including those with learning disabilities (Kim, Bryant, Bryant, & Park, 2017; Stevens et al., 2017; Lee & Yoon, 2017).

The routine shares these key ingredients with other varieties of repeated reading (such as echo reading, choral reading and Radio Reading):

  • Student reading is done orally (as opposed to silently) so the teacher can monitor word pronunciations and note errors.
  • The teacher gives support, first when she models the passage and then when the students read along with others.
  • The process provides feedback, important because feedback helps readers form the exact pronunciation and spelling of every word processed by and stored within the brain’s reading circuitry (Shaywitz, 2020).

Through its very nature, Samuel’s routine gives students lots of reading practice. It goes, however, above and beyond garden varieties of repeated reading.  According to Timothy Shanahan, “Repeated Reading is a particular method … to develop decoding automaticity with struggling readers. In this approach, students are asked to read aloud short text passages (50-200 words) until they reach a criterion level of success – particular speed and accuracy goals” (Shanahan, 2020). Said another way, the routine uses goal setting, instant error correction, and peer mediation to boost all components of reading fluency.

Repeated reading of all types typically leads to improved reading performance, especially for low performing readers (Zawoyski, et. al., 2014), with the biggest payoffs being more accurate word reading, improved oral reading fluency, and more reading comprehension (Shanahan, 2020). Still, some schools and teachers don’t make use of this powerful practice. Here’s what dyslexia researcher Sally Shaywitz has to say: “…the proven effectiveness of guided repeated oral reading to increase fluency is too often ignored. That is unacceptable. In fact, the evidence is so strong that I urge adoption of these programs as an integral part of every school reading curriculum throughout primary school” (Shaywitz, p. 233).

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time and effort to understand and then adopt the practice in your reading block. If you would like to absorb Samuel’s Repeated Reading routine well enough to use it with your readers who struggle, here are three resources to explore:

A final note

The work of S. Jay Samuels has had a profound impact on the field of reading instruction. Dr. Samuels passed away last year in December. Whether they know it or not, teachers who engage in quality reading instruction have been influenced by Dr. Samuels and countless children have become better readers because of his insights. If you’d like to read about S. Jay Samuel’s life and reflect on his accomplishments, follow this link and read the “in memorium.”

Citations and sources:
IRRC blog: Repeated Reading with Goal Setting for Reading Fluency: Focusing on Reading Quality Rather Than Reading Speed

Kim, M. K., Bryant, D. P., Bryant, B. R., & Park, Y. (2017). A synthesis of interventions for improving oral reading fluency of elementary students with learning disabilities. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 61, 116–125. doi:10.1080/1045988X.2016.1212321

LaBerge, D., & Samuels, S. J. (1974). Towards a theory of automatic information processing in reading. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 293-323. doi:10.1016/0010-0285

Lee, J., & Yoon, S. Y. (2017). The effects of repeated reading on reading fluency for students with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50, 213-224. doi: 10.1177/0022219415605194

Reading Rockets Blogs About Reading: Everything You Wanted to Know About Repeated Reading 

Shawitz, S. & Shaywitz, J. (2020). Overcoming Dyslexia: Second Edition, Completely Revised and Updated. Knopf.

Stevens, E. A., Walker, M. A., & Vaughn, S. (2017). The effects of reading fluency interventions on the reading fluency and reading comprehension performance of elementary students with learning disabilities: A synthesis of the research from 2001 to 2014. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50, 576-590. doi:10.1177/0022219416638028

Zawoyski, A., Ardoin, S., & Binder, K. (2014). Using Eye Tracking to Observe Differential Effects of Repeated Readings for Second-Grade Students as a Function of Achievement Level. Reading Research Quarterly. 50(2), 171–184.

About the Author – Mark Weakland
A teacher, reading specialist, writer, and musician, Mark enjoys exploring the intersections of education, literacy, science, and the arts. As a national and regional consultant and coach, Mark works with students, teachers, and administrators to create effective literacy programs, as well as authentic and extended reading and writing experiences. As an artist, Mark strives to write books, play music, and craft workshops that engage and inspire. Mark holds a master’s of education degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He was the recipient of an Owens Fellowship and studied in Japan under the auspices of the Japanese Fulbright Memorial Fund. His teaching certifications include reading specialist, special education, elementary education, and general science. For many years, Mark was a teacher, first in a learning support classroom (grades 4 and 5) and then as a Title I reading specialist (grades K to 6). In between his teaching assignments, he worked as an educational consultant, providing professional development in the areas of reading and instructional practices. In 2014 he left public education and formed his own company, Mark Weakland Literacy. It’s been an adventure ever since. Mark is sponsored by Corwin.

ProvenTutoring: New Tutoring Coalition Launches Effort to Deliver Services To 4 Million Children in the 2021-22 School Year

A new coalition of more than a dozen established tutoring programs launched this week to help schools nationwide meet the needs of students whose struggles with math and reading worsened during the pandemic. Known as ProvenTutoring, the coalition seeks to rapidly scale up research-backed, high-impact tutoring programs to serve students performing far below grade level in Title I schools across the U.S. With an influx of funding from the American Rescue Plan and in partnership with school districts across the nation, ProvenTutoring programs seek to serve 4 million children in the 2021-22 school year. 

To help school districts match programs that best fit the needs of their students, the coalition has a website – – to serve as a one-stop-shop for more information about their highly effective programs. ProvenTutoring member organizations, who in some cases offer more than one program, are: AARP; Future Forward; Lesley University and The Ohio State University; Lindamood-Bell; Benedict Silverman Foundation; University of North Carolina; Success for All Foundation; University of Oregon; Reading & Math, Inc.; Fuchs Tutoring; and Saga Education. The programming offered by these organizations supports reading tutoring in kindergarten through sixth grades and math tutoring in kindergarten through 10th grades. 

Prior to the pandemic, many children in the U.S. already struggled to meet grade-level expectations. During the pandemic, as many schools went virtual for months, the situation worsened as many students were not able to fully engage with online school because of internet, device, and other challenges. An analysis by McKinsey in December shows that students on average started the 2020-21 school year about three months behind grade level in mathematics. This trend didn’t play out equally across demographics, however. White students were about one to three months behind, and students of color were three to five months behind. 

“If you are concerned about equity in the U.S., ProvenTutoring should matter to you. Lower-income students and students of color have suffered the most from COVID-related school building closures,” said Amanda Nietzel, spokesperson for ProvenTutoring. “Not only do we know that that tutoring works, but we know the specific elements that make tutoring programs most effective.” 

Extensive research shows that one-on-one and small group tutoring has been proven to be the most effective way to deliver support to students. Effective tutoring programs can make a large difference in a short amount of time. The effect size of a ProvenTutoring program is +0.41 in reading and +.030 in math, whereas the effect size of summer school on reading is +0.06 and on math is +0.02. According to the late researcher and ProvenTutoring co-founder Robert Slavin, the effect sizes of these programs could translate to a gain of 20 points in reading and 15 points in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). 

“All of our ProvenTutoring partners are committed to those key principles and to scaling up services to reach as many children as possible in partnership with school districts across the country,” Neitzel added. 

ProvenTutoring stands out because each of its members offers highly rigorous programs that follow evidence-backed best practices and have research to show their effectiveness. These tutoring programs have been evaluated in studies that meet the evidence standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the Strong, Moderate, or Promising levels. Information about ProvenTutoring programs and their results are now available at

Leveled Literacy Intervention National Tutoring Scale-up Model

In order to scale up the effective implementation of Leveled Literacy Intervention, Lesley University and The Ohio State University have partnered to design a structured, organized approach for training Tutors and Lead Tutors and providing ongoing support to ensure effective implementation in your school or district.

Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is an evidence-based intervention that provides intensive instruction to students who are performing significantly below grade level in reading and writing. LLI is a short-term daily intervention designed to help students make literacy progress in 12 – 18 weeks. It is supplemental to classroom literacy instruction.

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ProvenTutoring is a coalition of organizations that provide high-effective tutoring programs to support students across the U.S. It was founded by Robert Slavin and Nancy Madden of Johns Hopkins University as a nonprofit subsidiary of the Success for All Foundation. The website,, helps educators learn about and access tutoring programs proven in rigorous research to substantially increase the achievement of students performing far below grade level due to COVID school closures or other factors. 

Robert Slavin passed away suddenly just before the launch of ProvenTutoring. The coalition will continue to be led by Nancy Madden and her Success for All Foundation colleagues. 

Learning to Read is Complex: No Reading Program is an Alternative to Teacher Expertise

Diagram of a triangle with the words readers, text and teaching at each point.
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Time to Confront Learning Loss: Responsive Teaching through Leveled Literacy Intervention

The unprecedented circumstances of our world have illuminated the need to address the literacy needs of marginalized students in our educational system. There is an urgency to allocate resources to deal with the learning loss that so many of them have experienced. If we are truly committed to each child, then we need to make an intervention plan that provides intensive short-term support to bring these students along a path to successful literacy competencies. This will mean unwavering commitment to these students, structured time for instruction, research-based teaching, and high-quality resources.

Texts that Matter

Daily instruction needs to engage the hearts and minds of all students. They need to read fiction and nonfiction texts that are culturally relevant, meaningful and worthy of their thinking. The child needs to read at least two books each day in the intervention lesson to build a sense of agency, stamina and independence.  

Small Group Instruction

When you work daily with a very small group of students – e.g. 3 or 4 , you offer more time for them to share their thinking. You are able to observe what they know and can do, what they can almost do and what they cannot yet do. The intensity of your teaching and the preciseness of your teaching moves are increased when the group is small because you can observe more closely.

Intensive, Fast Paced Instruction

Frequent and predictable instruction in a very small group increases the level of intensity for observing, teaching and interacting with each child. The quality of the literacy instruction is critical – a structured lesson with a focus on thinking, talking, reading, writing, and learning how the alphabetic system works. Your teaching needs to be fast-paced, not slowed down, so as to keep the child fully engaged.


Children who have experienced any form of trauma need adults who provide a safe learning environment (whether face-to-face or virtual). A responsive teacher tunes in to the child’s emotional context and crafts precise teaching moves that build on the child’s strengths. Every intervention lesson needs to give the child a feeling of success and joy in reading, writing and learning about phonics. 

Leveled Literacy Intervention is a proven program for students in need of extra literacy support to achieve success. It provides the kinds of opportunities described. That is why it has demonstrated success with so many children around the world.

Consider making a plan with your school team to join us for professional learning in Leveled Literacy Intervention, so you can mitigate learning loss and give your students the opportunity for success that they deserve.

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July 28-30 & October 25-27, 2021 (6-day training)

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

While hoop skirts are long gone, Anna’s exuberant number from The King and I about getting to know a whole new group of students still rings true. It is a joyful experience—one that unfolds over time in countless ways, intentional and unintentional. It is also a necessity for good teaching.

This year, educators are presented with unique challenges to this crucial process—teaching remotely, hybrid schedules, and socially distanced classrooms are just a few. Add to this months of uncertainty about how learning would resume, take away the information a teacher might typically have from a students’ end of year assessments, throw in anxiety about health and safety, and it is easy to see why so many are scratching their heads, wondering how to begin.

The Fundamentals of Assessment

Getting to know every child as an individual in this context requires intention, observation, and inquiry. The fundamentals of good assessment still apply.

Good assessment is that which is:

  1. Instructionally meaningful and authentic. With limited or no time in the classroom, it is critical to closely connect assessment to teaching goals. What is the purpose of the assessment? How will the results or observations inform responsive teaching? If answers aren’t clear the assessment can hardly be worth the time and precious resources of students’ attention, focus, and energy.
  2. Observational. Observing students’ reading, writing, and language behaviors provides contextualized information about their strengths and needs. Astute educators use every opportunity to notice, document, and plan next steps based on observations.
  3. Timely. Learning needs must be detected quickly in order to respond appropriately.
  4. Tentative. Assessment provides a hypothesis about where to start instruction. No assessment is the final or comprehensive word on a student. The decisions made based on assessment information must be tentative and continually revisited in light of new observational information.
  5. Systematic. Systematic assessment does not mean a lockstep procedure, but it does mean methodical, intentional, and well organized. Good record keeping will help educators find patterns and trends in teaching and learning for individuals, small groups and the whole class.
  6. Able to positively inform students’ self-assessment. What message are your assessments sending to students? How are they learning from assessments? Asset based assessment can help motivate, build independence, and improve outcomes.

Suggestions for Getting to Know Your Students

The pandemic has impacted students and their families in many ways. Now more than ever it is critical to get to know students as individuals. This includes getting a comprehensive sense not just of what they know and can do, but also of their learning conditions, experiences with remote learning, and their social-emotional status.

Introductory phone calls or video chats with parents and students may be a good way to connect with students and families one-on-one before the school year begins. Interest surveys might also allow teachers to gather systematic information. Some important considerations this year may include:

  • What is the students’ home work space? How many others will be learning in the same space? Are headphones available?
  • What is the home technology like? How reliable is the internet connection? Describe any concerns about connectivity.
  • What device does the student have and how well can they use it independently? Will the student be connecting on a handheld device? A laptop? Is there a touchscreen?
  • Who else is home during the day and how might they be involved in remote learning?
  • What were the students’ experiences with remote learning like in the spring?
  • Is there anything else that will be helpful for me to know?

Anna had the good fortune to be in the palace with her students. Most of us won’t be in such a position this year. However, we can make the most of this new normal by focusing our assessment energy on that which we know matters and keeping it more closely connected to teaching goals than ever before.

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Want to learn more? Join us at Literacy for All Virtual Conference, October 25-27, 2020 Live and On-Demand until December 31, 2020.

  • A Practical Guide to Using Digital Texts and Tools in a Dynamic Classroom 
  • Engaging Students in Meaningful Remote Learning K-6
  • Virtual or In-Person Decision-Making in Guided Reading
  • Finding Entry Points and On-Ramps for Writers
  • Strategies vs. Strategic Processing: Setting the Stage for Generative Learning
  • And many more!