Reading as a precursor to Assessment

By Margaret Allen, Strategic Education Manager

We wouldn’t ask a child to run before they can walk… so why would we ask them to sit an assessment if they don’t have the reading skills to be able to decode what is being asked of them?
Well, in primary schools we wouldn’t dream of this. But when reading is one of the hardest skills to assess objectively, how do we truly know what level of reading comprehension a child possesses?

That’s where Renaissance Star Reading comes in. As an independent, fully validated and objective assessment tool, Star gives teachers accurate insight into the exact reading abilities of a child. Extending much further than phonics, Star provides a true picture of how well a child is able to comprehend the meaning within text – and beyond providing a ZPD score to facilitate reading development with Accelerated Reader, it also gives detailed reports in relation to their reading age, growth potential and how they are performing as compared with other children of the same age and ability throughout the UK.

The use of Accelerated Reader to promote a reading for pleasure culture combined with Star Reading has proven a powerful combination for many primary schools, with some starting to use the valuable data to accurately predict Year 6 SATs results. You can read more about this from Gary Alexander at Battle & Langton CE Primary School.

Sadly, this positive approach to reading development does not appear to follow through once children start out in secondary schools. While reading is embedded as part of school life in primary and touches every part of the curriculum, in secondary education it becomes the preserve of the English department and attitudes towards reading start to change. The love of reading and hunger to devour books becomes restricted by the syllabus and as a consequence, the progress which has been made in primary often bucks into a downward trend. The impact of this has been seen recently in this year’s GCSE results.

Our own Dirk Foch discussed these very challenges in an article for the TES, which included research Renaissance conducted on almost 1 million young people’s reading habits across 3,897 schools, in partnership with the University of Dundee. The study exposed a stagnation in reading ability among school leavers. In detail, it found that 11-16 year olds are not reading challenging enough books at secondary school level.

In the final year of primary school, pupil’s ages typically match up with their reading age. However, on entry to secondary school, children are either stagnating or falling behind on their reading age. This means that many pupils who sat their GCSEs this summer will have had a reading age of 13. The research found that this trend was reflected across the UK – suggesting a nationwide literacy challenge in the education system and leads to the conclusion that children are not reading challenging enough books in secondary school.

Crucially, the study underpins what we already know to be true in primary schools. We can’t ask a child to sit an assessment if we don’t believe they have the necessary reading skills to be able to understand what they are being asked to do. But the good news is that with Star, we can get the insight we need.

And if you’re ever unsure as to the reading age an assessment requires, Renaissance offers a free online tool which analyses the text for you – removing any ounce of doubt when it comes to giving a child the very best chance to succeed.

If you’d like to learn more about leveraging the power of Star assessments with the Accelerated Reader programme, I’d love to hear from you – feel free to tweet me @MargaretCAllen.

Margaret Allen
Strategic Education Manager

Margaret Allen is Strategic Education Manager for Primary schools at Renaissance Learning. She uses practical experience from her time teaching in primary classrooms to help teachers across the UK to get the most out of Accelerated Reader.

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