A Survey on the Techniques of Students\' Reading Assessment by

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Furthermore, this study is to find the most effective techniques to the teachers in improving reading comprehension of t...

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Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013)

A Survey on the Techniques of Students’ Reading Assessment by English Teachers at University Maryam Jalalifarahani a,*, and Mohammadali Ghovehnodoushan b a Taft Branch, Islamic Azad University, Taft, Iran b Taft Branch, Islamic Azad University, Taft, Iran * Corresponding Author’s Email: [email protected] Abstract In this study some issues related to assessment are under study such as the amount of the feedback the teachers provide for the learners, the preferred reading assessment to the teachers, the efficiency of each assessment, the provided feedback to close the gap between the students’ current and standard level, the amount of useful and valuable information in each assessment for the teachers, using informal reading inventories in diagnostic assessment. Furthermore, this study is to find the most effective techniques to the teachers in improving reading comprehension of the students in English courses of universities. 40 English teachers participated in this study. A questionnaire survey was carried out for the purpose of the research in which there were 12 questions and the subjects were supposed to choose items among a five-point scale. The data were gathered and analyzed. The results show that the subjects consider the amount of the useful and valuable information in formative assessment very little, while it is completely different for summative and diagnostic assessment. Furthermore it showed that the teachers believe in oral form of the test more than the written one and in oral reading fluency in informal reading inventories as the best predictor of reading achievement. Keywords: Summative Assessment, Diagnostic Assessment, Formative Assessment Introduction Reading assessment has been established as a dynamic and multi-layered phenomenon and has become an important topic engaging many researchers in recent years. The traditional assessment techniques are still popular today because they are readily quantifiable, such as summative which can be used to compare the students at the end of the course. On the other hand, the new and cognitive testing methods are known as indirect indicators such as written and oral answers to the tests. An example for such a test is formative assessment that is used for remediation and more instruction if needed. In majority of cases reading assessment for university students is just limited to the final exam as a summative test. Testing learners at the end of the term just as a pass-or-fail instrument sometimes seems to be ineffective in achieving the objectives of education. Assessing reading skill, the most important skill in English courses for Iranian university students, is sometimes underestimated by just giving a final exam to the students. In spite of the fact that final exams, as a summative assessment, can provide some information on the progress of the students, this information is very limited and has no remedial effects on the students’ reading development. In such a case the learners’ reading progress needs to be monitored thoroughly along the term and every deviation from the objectives of the course be remedied periodically. Therefore, the intervals between each assessment and the form of the assessment need a careful scrutiny. This research is to study on the methods of reading assessment through a survey to find the most effective techniques to the teachers in improving reading comprehension of the students in English courses of universities. This study will deal with three types of questions related to reading assessment practically as follows: if there is any

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Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013) relationship between reading assessment and reading skill development, and if the teachers prefer one form of reading assessment to another, and finally if the intervals between formative assessments are important. Literature Review Assessment is an essential element of education used to inform instruction (Wren, 2004). The first step in implementing good reading instruction is to determine student baseline performance. Students enter the classroom with diverse backgrounds and skills in literacy. Some students may enter the classroom with special needs that require review of basic skills in reading, while other students may have mastered the content a teacher intends to cover. Due to these various student levels, it is necessary to design literacy instruction to meet the individual needs of each student. Individual needs can be determined by initial and ongoing reading assessments. These assessments provide teachers with the information needed to develop appropriate lessons and improve instruction for all students. The information gained from appropriate assessment enables teachers to provide students with improved access to the general education curriculum. According to Fouberg (2004), to assess students accurately, the first step is to determine the purpose of a given assignment. An assignment can be a learning assignment, such as a draft of a paper, or it can be a final product, such as a traditional research paper. If the purpose of the assignment is to improve student learning, then the professor should employ formative assessment. With formative assessment, the lecturer focuses on giving students frequent, quick feedback as written comments. Formative assessment does not usually include numbers or grades. If the purpose of the assignment is to create a finished product, then the focus should be on summative assessment. With summative assessment, the lecturer gives the feedback needed to “justify” the grade assigned. The lecturer grades only the product and cannot see the student’s learning process in the work. Classroom assessment and grading practices have the potential not only to measure and report learning but also to promote it. Indeed, recent research has documented the benefits of regular use of diagnostic and formative assessments (“assessments for Learning”) as feedback for learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & William, 2004). Like successful athletic coaches, the best teachers recognize the importance of ongoing assessments and continual adjustments on the part of both teacher and student as the means to achieve maximum performance. Unlike the external standardized tests that feature so prominently on the school landscape these days, well-designed classroom assessment and grading practices can provide the kind of specific, personalized, and timely information needed to guide both learning and teaching. The functions of assessment refer to its intended use: a use which cannot be guaranteed (Wiliam 2000). The choice of function does not impinge on the actual process of assessment, but it will affect the choices of the parameters of the assessment. Therefore, the criteria and, to a lesser extent, goals and standards will be influenced by the choice of function. Functions are many and can be combined into multiple uses (Black and Wiliam 1998a). Often social functions predominate over educational ones (Broadfoot 2002); for example, creating hierarchies of selection has often been prioritised over assessment which represents learners’ levels of expertise. Society rightly makes judgements; the fear of misuse of these judgements has distorted our view of assessment (Scriven 1967, Rowntree 1987). Since Scriven drew the distinction between SA and FA, a gradual separation of the two into mutually exclusive entities based on the differences in functions of assessment has evolved in the literature. Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus (1971) seem to be the first to have created this dichotomy (Wiliam and Black 1996, 537). Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus (1971, 54) ‘borrowed’ the term ‘formative’ from Scriven and used it to mean the provision of feedback on tests from small 2

Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013) learning units which make up a mastery learning framework. However, and more importantly, they introduce new parameters to differentiate between SA and FA: ‘The distinguishing characteristics have to do with purpose (expected uses), portion of course covered (time), and level of generalization sought by the items in the examination used to collect data for the evaluation’ (Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus 1971, 61). Although not absolute, they note that the last is perhaps the feature which differentiates the two most sharply (Bloom, Hastings, and Madaus 1971, 62). This begs the question as to what constitutes level of generalisation and how it can be determined. Torrance (1993, 335–6) has criticised this model as behaviouristic. Also, importantly,this does not correspond to the distinction which was first made by Scriven. Oral reading has been a focus for the assessment of early reading development throughout the 20th century, and informal reading inventories remain popular diagnostic assessments (Rasinski & Hoffman, 2003). Most informal reading inventories include a variety of graded passages that children read alone and aloud while a teacher records the rate, accuracy, and intonation of the oral reading. Inventories often include a retelling task and a set of questions to assess comprehension. When children can read text passages at their own grade level with at least 98% correct word recognition and 90% correct comprehension, they are considered to be independent readers at their grade level (e.g., Leslie & Caldwell, 2001). However, these criteria may vary with the difficulty of the text and the purpose of the test. Some researchers have suggested that oral reading fluency in informal reading inventories is the best predictor of reading achievement in elementary grades (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Maxwell, 1988). Researchers in special education have argued that brief assessments of oral reading rate are good measures of reading competence, and by inference, oral reading rates may indirectly assess reading comprehension (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001; Hosp & Fuchs, 2005). The impact of summative assessment on students’ motivation for learning can be both direct and indirect. A direct impact can be through inducing test anxiety and the effect of low scores on self-esteem and perceptions of themselves as learners; an indirect impact can be through the effect on their teachers and the curriculum. Any negative impact on motivation for learning is clearly highly undesirable, particularly at a time when the importance of learning to learn and lifelong learning is widely embraced. Thus the process of driving up test scores could have serious consequences for the current generation of students. This prompted a systematic review for evidence on the impact of summative assessment and testing on motivation for learning. Based on the above definition, Black and William (1989a) compiled a review of the relevant literature. Their review emphasized the role of the teacher in assessing students and providing them with relevant feedback that aims to close the gap between the student’s current standard and a reference level. The article was published together with the reactions of other scholars. Notable among those is the critique of Perrenoud (1998), of the University of Geneva, who criticized the emphasis on feedback in what he termed the “Anglo-Saxon studies”. Perrenoud (1998) introduced the concept of the regulation of learning processes to the discourse of the King’s scholars (Hodgen & Marshall, 2005; William, 2005). The idea of regulation takes the emphasis from assessment and the ensuing remediation taking place after a unit of instruction. Regulation implies an adaptation of the instruction which occurs while the student is engaged in a learning activity (Allal & Lopez, 2005, p. 245). Three interdependent but distinct elements characterize fluent reading: accuracy, rate, and prosody. Accuracy relates to the ability to decode words in text (not in isolation) without error. Rate refers to the ability to automatically decode words. Rate can also be characterized by age appropriate chunking strategies and a repertoire of “sight” words. Prosody is the use

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Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013) of appropriate phrasing and expression and is believed to be an important factor in comprehension (Rasinski, 2004). A fluent reader moves beyond simple decoding to automatically recognize words, interpret text, and retain salient details of what has been read (Rasinski, 2004). This reflects the interdependent nature of reading fluency. Success in all three areas is needed to proceed to good comprehension. Fluency can vary, even for skilled readers. It can depend on the type of text (narrative, expository, poetry), familiarity with the vocabulary, background knowledge of the subject, the number of sight words, and the amount of practice the reader has had with a particular text or type of text. The development of fluency comes from many successful opportunities to practice reading. Many reading researchers have noted the widening gap in experience with reading, vocabulary, and language that develops over time when children who have sufficient daily practice with reading are compared to those who do not. This is often referred to as “The Matthew Effect.” When determining the presence of a disability, teams should make a careful determination of whether a child has a disability or lack of opportunity. One important method for making this determination is to monitor progress in word recognition and comprehension when providing an evidence-based, small-group intervention. Fluency may be viewed as the bridge between basic word decoding and comprehension (Rasinski, 2004). The importance of fluency to successful reading and comprehension can be understood by way of analogy to public speaking. Good public speakers use accurate articulation, appropriate pace, phrasing and expression (Rasinski, 2004). A good speaker will speak in phrases, utilize cadence, place emphasis on certain words, and vary their volume and intonation to help carry a comprehensible message to the listener. Contrast that with a dull or very anxious speaker who reads in a slow, plodding, and monotonous way without expression, cadence, or apparent interest in the listeners’ understanding. The second area which supports student learning is based on ‘feedback by comments but without marks’ (Black et al. 2003, 42–9). It is based on research by Butler (1988), who studied the impact of types of feedback; one supplied marks, one supplied comments, and one a combination of both. Learning gains are best with comments only, as the presence of marks seems to interfere with effective take-up of feedback. What is perhaps surprising from the reaction of the teachers in Black et al.’s study is that many felt they could not engage with this process. This process seemed to have been perceived as an ‘all-or-nothing’ situation by the teachers and it is surprising that other choices were not found. Methods For the purpose of the research, 50 English teachers as a foreign language will participate. All of them have master of art or science degree. There is a questionnaire provided for the purpose of the research which includes 12 rating questions and a descriptive one. The subjects were supplied with the definitions of different assessments in details and they were provided with enough detailed academic knowledge before answering the questions. After distributing the questionnaire, they filled the questionnaire rating their attitude from 1. Very much 2. Much 3. Fairly 4. Little 5. Very little. The data was gathered and analyzed by a Non-parametric test. Findings The purpose of this project was to study the techniques applied by English teachers at university to assess students’ reading abilities. To perform this study a survey was done. The main purpose of the study is to study the relationship between reading assessment and reading skill development, if teachers do prefer one form of reading assessment to another, and to find the appropriate intervals between formative assessments. Furthermore, through 4

Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013) the study of the results and provided answers by subjects in the questionnaires, some more issues would be discovered including the amount of the feedback the teachers provide for the learners, the preferred reading assessment to the teachers, the efficiency of each assessment, the provided feedback to close the gap between the students’ current and standard level, the amount of useful and valuable information in each assessment for the teachers, using informal reading inventories in diagnostic assessment. Black & William (1998b) likened the policies of accountability and national and international testing of students to a system engineering approach that treated the classroom as a black box. The authors consider that all assessments of student learning, formal or otherwise, become formative “when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the student needs” (p. 140). In their opinion, the assessment practices to which they were responding did not help teachers identify those needs. Based on the above definition, Black and William (1989a) compiled a review of the relevant literature. Their review emphasized the role of the teacher in assessing students and providing them with relevant feedback that aims to close the gap between the student’s current standard and a reference level. From Data analysis and the results, while the results show that there is not any significant difference, it can be deduced that the subjects (60%) accept the role of the teachers as providers of relevant feedback to close the gap between the students’ current level and a reference level, because a marginal majority of the subjects ranked this role as “much and very much”. Formative assessment consists of activities used by the teacher to determine a student’s level of knowledge and understanding for the purpose of providing the student with feedback and planning future instruction. The feedback and future instruction may be concerned with remediation or the provision of further learning opportunities. Kellough et al (1996, p. 418419) assert teachers using formative assessment approaches and techniques are better prepared to meet diverse students’ needs – through differentiation and adaptation of teaching to raise levels of student achievement and to achieve a greater equity of student outcomes. One of the aspects considered to be untouched is the interval between formative tests. The subjects in the study mainly (42.5%) ranked ‘fairly’ as their preferred interval. Unfortunately, in spite of providing a place for their recommended distance and interval, none of the subjects provided any recommendation; therefore, this item seems analytically ambiguous. Informal reading inventories remain popular diagnostic assessments. Most informal reading inventories include a variety of graded passages that children read alone and aloud while a teacher records the rate, accuracy, and intonation of the oral reading. Inventories often include a retelling task and a set of questions to assess comprehension. When children can read text passages at their own grade level with at least 98% correct word recognition and 90% correct comprehension, they are considered to be independent readers at their grade level (Leslie & Caldwell, 2001). However, these criteria may vary with the difficulty of the text and the purpose of the test. The data analysis and the results show that 93% of the subjects believe in using informal rating inventories as diagnostic assessment from fairly to very much. This can support the previous section because this kind of assessment is the preferred one for assessing the knowledge of the beginners. The results show that the subjects do not support recording the rate, accuracy and intonation (65% ranked fairly and little). One of the reasons might be because of adhering to summative assessment rather than the other forms of assessment, and partly because of preferring written form rather than oral one for the summative assessment.

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Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013)

Conclusion Teaching and learning, as reciprocal processes, depend on and affect one another. Thus, the assessment component deals with how well the students are learning and how well the teacher is teaching. The first step in dealing with assessment is making the teachers alert to the importance of assessment in developing a lesson plan successfully. Nevertheless, it is essential to know how much the teachers rely on the provided information by assessment. One of the roles of a teacher is assessing students and providing them with relevant feedback that aims to close the gap between the student’s current standard and a reference level. While the results show that there is not any significant difference in answers provided by the subjects, it could be deduced that the subjects (60%) accept the role of the teachers as providers of relevant feedback to close the gap between the students’ current level and a reference level, because a marginal majority of the subjects accepted this role. The data analysis and the results show that 93% of the subjects believe in using informal rating inventories as diagnostic assessment from fairly to very much which can support Rasinski & Hoffman (2003), since this kind of assessment is the preferred one for assessing the knowledge of the beginners. As it was observed in the previous sections the teachers believe in oral form of the test more than the written one, and one of the elements which is the sign of the students improvement in early stages is fluency of the readers in reading the texts aloud. Therefore, it supports Fuchs, Fuchs, & Maxwell, (1988) which have suggested that oral reading fluency in informal reading inventories is the best predictor of reading achievement in elementary grades; however, the results show that the subjects do not support recording the rate, accuracy and intonation. One of the reasons might be because of adhering to summative assessment rather than the other forms of assessment, and partly because of preferring written form rather than oral one for the summative assessment. Reference Allal, L., & Lopez, L. M. (2005). Formative assessment of learning: A review of publications in French. In OECD (Ed.), Formative assessment: Improving learning in secondary classrooms (pp. 241-264). France: OECD Publishing. Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for Learning: Putting it into Practice. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 9–21. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998a). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7-74. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998b). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-148. Bloom, B. S., Hastings, J. T., & Madaus, G. F. (1971). Handbook on the formative and summative evaluation of student learning. New York: McGraw-Hill. Broadfoot, P. (2002). Editorial: Beware the consequences of assessment! Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice 9, no. 3: 285–8. Butler, R. (1987). Task-involving and ego-involving properties of evaluation: Effects of different feedback conditions on motivational perceptions, interest and performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 474-482. Fuchs, L.S., Fuchs, D., Hosp, M.K., & Jenkins, J.R. (2001). Oral reading fluency as an indicator of reading competence: A theoretical, empirical, and historical analysis. Scientific Studies of Reading, 5(3), 239-256. 6

Frontiers of Language and Teaching …...………………………. Volume 4 (2013) Fuchs, L.S., and D. Fuchs. (1986). Effects of systematic formative evaluation: A metaanalysis. Exceptional Children 53: 199–208. Hodgen, J., & Marshall, B. (2005). Assessment for learning in English and Mathematics: a comparison. The Curriculum Journal, 16(2), 153-176. Hosp, M.K., & Fuchs, L.S. (2005). Using CBM as an indicator of decoding, word reading, and comprehension: Do the relations change with grade? School Psychology Review, 34 9–26. Kellough, R.D. and Kellough, N.G. (1999). Secondary School Teaching: A Guide To Methods And Resources; Planning For Competence. Copyright by Prentice Hill, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Kellaghan, T., Madaus, G. F. & Raczek, A. (1996) The use of external examinations to improve student motivation (Washington, DC, American Educational Research Association). Leslie, & Caldwell, J. (2001). Qualitative reading inventory-3. New York: Addison Wesley Longman. Perrenoud, P. (1998). From formative evaluation to a controlled regulation of learning processes. Towards a wider conceptual field. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 85-102. Rasinski, T. V., & Hoffman, J. V. (2003). Oral reading in the school literacy curriculum. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(4), 510-522. Rasinski, T. V. (2004). Assessing reading fluency. Honolulu, HI: Pacific Resources for Education and Learning. Scriven, M. 1967. The methodology of evaluation. In Perspectives on curriculum evaluation, ed. R. Tyler, R. Gagne, and M. Scriven. AERA monograph series – curriculum evaluation Chicago: Rand McNally. Torrance, H. (1993). Formative assessment: Some theoretical problems and empirical questions. Cambridge Journal of Education 23: 333–43. Wiliam, D., and P. Black. (1996). Meanings and consequences: A basis for distinguishing formative and summative functions of assessment? British Educational Research Journal 22, no. 5: 537–48. Wiliam, D. (2000). Integrating formative and summative functions of assessment. Paper presented to working group 10 of the International Congress on Mathematics Education, from http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/education/publications/ICME9%3DWGA10.pdf Wiliam, D. (2005). Keeping learning on track: Formative assessment and the regulation of learning. Paper presented at the Twentieth biennial conference of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, Sydney.

To cite this article: Jalalifarahani, M., & Ghovehnodoushan, M. (2013). A Survey on the Techniques of Students’ Reading Assessment by English Teachers at University. Frontiers of Language and Teaching, Vol. 4, 1-7.

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