Academic journal article Education

A Comparative Study of Teacher Ratings of Emergent Literacy Skills and Student Performance on a Standardized Measure

Academic journal article Education

A Comparative Study of Teacher Ratings of Emergent Literacy Skills and Student Performance on a Standardized Measure

Article excerpt

Introduction

Failure to meet grade-level expectations in reading is the most cited reason for retention in the early grades (Snow, Bums & Griffin, 1998). Reading difficulties are pervasive and persistent. They occur across all ethnic and socioeconomic strata, and research indicates that students who read poorly at the end of first grade are likely to be well below grade level in reading after three additional years of instruction (Juel, 1988). This deficit also tends to be cumulative since students with poor reading skills read less, have reduced access to the curriculum, learn less, and fall farther behind same-grade peers (Jackson, Paratore, Chard & Garnick, 1999). Indeed, the deleterious curricular and social consequences of late detection of reading difficulties have been well documented (Coleman & Vaughn, 2000; Jackson, Paratore, Chard, & Garnick, 1999; Vernon-Feagans, Hammer, Miccio & Manlove, 2003). However, there is now converging research evidence which attests to the mutability of reading trajectories and the effectiveness of early intervention in preventing reading failure (Agostin & Bain, 1997; Blachman, Ball, Black & Tangel, 2000; Dickson & Bursuck, 1999; Leppanen, Niemi, Aunola & Nurmi, 2004; Lyon et al., 2001; Notary-Syverson, O'Connor & Vadasy, 1998; Phillips, Norris, Osmond, & Maynard, 2002; Shaywitz, 2003; Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1997; Torgeson, 2001; Vadasy, 2000). The onus, then, is on educators to identify young students who are encountering literacy learning difficulties and provide empirically validated intervention to prevent reading failure.

The first step in preventive early intervention is assessment. In practice, early literacy assessment is largely a context-based, informal process during which teachers observe emergent literacy skills and make judgements about each child's skill and ability, developmental rate, and responsiveness to instruction. These contextual observations are often supported by the use of developmental continua and rubrics in the form of checklists or rating scales. Based on an analysis of teachers' early literacy assessment practices, Meisels and Parker (2000) determined that teachers used observation to assess 70 percent of early literacy skills, and frequently used checklists to support those observations. However, there are concerns about the psychometric adequacy and objectivity of those observational measures. Meisels and Parker (2000) found that these contextual assessment measures had limited evidence of psychometric adequacy: only 14 percent had good reliability data and fewer still had evidence of concurrent or predictive validity. As well, these measures provided limited information to guide teacher observations, record keeping, and interpretation (Meisels & Parker, 2000; Paris & Hoffman, 2004).

In addition to concern about the limitations in available psychometric data and administrative information, there is also concern that teachers' informal assessments may be influenced by extraneous factors. Research demonstrates, for instance, that teachers' values and cultural expectations affect their perceptions and, ultimately, their assessments of students (Hosp & Reschly, 2003; Shaywitz, 2003). In view of the current emphasis on teachers' contextual assessment of emergent literacy skills, we need to determine the degree to which such assessments are valid judgements about children's early literacy skill development. One approach to this issue would be to examine closely the relationship between teacher ratings of literacy skills and student performance on individually-administered standardized measures with prior evidence of construct validity. While cognizant of concerns regarding standardized measures and their use with young children (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1997; National Education Goals Panel, 1998), we feel such scrutiny would assist us in determining whether irrelevant variables affect the valid use of contextual measures and thereby mitigate the efficacy of early identification procedures (Ebel & Frisbie, 1991; Popham, 2000). …

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