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Embedding Assessment in All Classroom Activities

Susan and class looking at their communication boards.Assessment is an important part of instruction and serves three primary purposes:

(1) to tell us where a child is functioning within a particular developmental domain (e.g., social, academic, physical);

(2) to help us plan instruction that will help the child progress; and

(3) to help us evaluate the success of our instructional intervention.

It is critical that assessment provide us with information that is instructionally relevant. Standardized tests such as the Brigance or Woodcock Johnson may provide information about specific skills and general grade level equivalents, but they do not help us determine what we must teach tomorrow in order to move a child toward increased competence in reading and writing. On the other hand assessment that is embedded in an ongoing manner into daily instruction will help guide tomorrow's instruction. By embedding assessment, we do not mean teachers should spend their days drilling students on isolated skills such as letter or word recognition, sorting items, or identifying colors. Instead, we mean that teachers should embed activities within instruction that will help them understand what their students know.

Teachers embed assessment in instruction by including specific activities that allow children to demonstrate their current knowledge and skills without having to stop for a formal test. For example, perhaps a teacher has been providing children with instruction about rhyme and other word characteristics. Before moving on, she wants to assess whether her students have developed an understanding of rhyme. Rather than taking children aside one by one, and asking them to group picture cards by rhyme, the teacher could instead read a story to the whole class which makes extensive use of rhyme patterns. While reading the story to the group, the teacher could point out the first few instances of rhyme and then see if the children can help fill in remaining rhymes. If children fill in a word that rhymes, the teacher has determined that children understand this concept and her instruction has been successful. By letting children take turns filling in blanks the teacher can determine which children understand this concept and which do not.

Many published tests and assessments can be modified slightly for use in embedded assessment. For example, The Concepts About Print Test, developed by Marie Clay, provides teachers with knowledge about children's awareness of print and its uses. This test can be done formally at the beginning of the year to mark student progress, yielding such information as whether children can distinguish text from pictures, understand orientation of print, concepts of words, etc. Some of this information can also be obtained during informal readings of traditional books. For example, a child seated on the floor picks a book from a pile, turns it over, and starts leafing through it. We know just from watching that this child understands such concepts as orientation of book, reading from front to back, and turning pages right to left. Another child picks up a book and flips through it like a flip chart. This child does not yet understand conventions of story reading other than the notion of turning pages. He may not be attending to print or picture orientation. There are distinct developmental differences between these two children that we have learned through observation that will help us plan future interactions and instruction. Watching students interact with technology can often provide helpful insights into their learning strengths and weaknesses. For example, a child who has difficulty controlling a pencil may be able to write their name on the computer.

In summary, embedded assessment, which has also been referred to as ongoing assessment or diagnostic teaching, is a particularly effective way of accomplishing a need to assess progress without compromising valuable instructional time. As you visit Barbara and Susan's classrooms, you will find many more examples of embedded assessment.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP)  in collaboration with the Center for Literacy and Disabilities (CLD)  at Duke University.   NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by CLD, NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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