When a child first enters the classroom at the beginning of the school year, it’s all about the colorful boards, new friends, the awe of new ideas and information and embarking on another year of learning. What they don’t know is that they are being assessed as they move through the basic instructions of reading and comprehension. Formal reading assessments assist a teacher in understanding where the child may need further instruction as well as how the child can better understand how to accomplish classroom goals.

Different Types of Assessments

There are different types of reading assessments for elementary students. The tools a teacher can use include the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, assessment. It asks students to name letters, to discern nonsense words, checks for oral reading fluency and initial sounds. Assessment tests are designed to be short so as not to overwhelm a young child.

The DIBELS assessment is used throughout the year to discern how the child is progressing in literacy. It's usually administered in Kindergarten and through sixth grade, when children should be fluent and independent in their reading and comprehension abilities. Reading assessment tools include the Accelerated Reading Program, Benchmark Assessor, Reading Fluency Progress Monitor and more. These assessment tools measure a student’s level of comprehension and create a baseline for teachers to be able to narrow their scope in teaching a child.

Formal vs. Informal Assessment

Don’t be put off by the term formal assessment. Teachers gauge children’s abilities in many different ways as well as what works best for them to digest information and learn in order to advance in school. Formal assessments use data that support the conclusions that came from the child’s test results. These are usually the standardized tests children take at the end of the year.

The child’s results are based on statistics of how well their peers did in the same areas. Informal testing concentrates more on the performance and content, such as monitoring a child’s reading and comprehension of a particular book. Informal assessments can be weekly or semester grades and have a score based on the child’s individual comprehension. For instance getting five out of 10 at the beginning of a term and rising to eight out of 10 by the end of the term is an informal assessment.

Why Testing Matters

Tests may seem arbitrary, but they're actually important tools for both teacher and student. Teachers can be the most effective when they can identify performance objectives for their students. Students can also be more efficient in their study if they know what goals they need to reach within a certain time frame. When the teacher and student can have concise goals and an understanding of where the child is deficient, the chance of reaching those goals successfully increases significantly.