Teacher-Friendly Curriculum-Based Assessment in Spelling
Jones, Carroll J., Teaching Exceptional Children
ACCESSING THE CURRICULUM
The current focus on curriculum-based assessment (CBA; see box for definition) presents a number of problems for many special education teachers. Preparing and using CBAs may seem difficult for teachers who are accustomed to viewing academics from a skills-based perspective or a criterion-- referenced perspective that focuses on generic hierarchies of skills in various academic areas to plan a student's individualized education program (IEP).
If teachers are to have access to the general education curriculum for inclusion classes in a specific grade-level classroom-and its modifications-they need to know the grade-level specific skills usually used by general education teachers. We usually see some discrepancies in focus between general and special education teachers because the latter teachers are usually engaged in helping students with mild disabilities who function below grade level "catch up"-as fast as possible.
Most students have been taught by a writing-process approach, which would seem to reduce the effect of spelling problems on a report or story. But spelling continues to be a roadblock to fluent writing for many students with disabilities. Many students who learned to use invented spelling when taught language arts by the whole-language approach failed to make the transition to standard spelling. In addition, they find it difficult to proof their written work because they cannot detect or correct spelling errors.
Numerous prerequisites (i.e., auditory and visual perception, perceptual motor integration, phonics, handwriting) make spelling a difficult subject area for students with mild disabilities. Students who experience difficulty using word-attack skills in decoding new words in reading often experience difficulty with spelling.
Mercer (1997) indicated that required spelling competencies include the following: * auditory discrimination
* structural elements (root words, prefixes, suffixes)
* ending changes
* vowel digraphs and diphthongs
* silent e
Spelling curriculums are generally composed of high-frequency words, and words that can be encoded by knowing basic spelling skills, which are primarily phonics and structural analysis skills. General education students using spelling basals are exposed to and expected to spell at least 3,000 words (at 20 words per week) by the end of the sixth grade. Students with disabilities who spell a fraction of those words are at significant disadvantage in fluent written expression assignments. Appropriate programming for students with significant difficulties in spelling should begin with assessment to determine the student's individual spelling curriculum.
Spelling Assessment Instruments
You can assess spelling for instructional planning by using commercial CRTs, such as the Diagnostic Spelling Test (Kottmeyer, 1970) and The Spellmaster Assessment and Teaching System (Greenbaum, 1987). These CRTs measure the spelling of phonetically regular words and structural spelling elements, as well as nonphonetic or irregular words. CRTs provide significant information regarding the generic spelling curriculum needed for specific students, but the tests are not tied to specific state or district spelling curricula. Therefore, the spelling assessments needed are criterion-referenced tests based on the state or district spelling curriculum-in other words, curriculum-based assessments that embody the CRT model. This article discusses the construction of several spelling CBAs, including Spelling Graded Word Lists and the Informal Spelling Inventory.
Creating Spelling Graded Word Lists
Spelling Graded Word Lists (see Table 1) are similar to Reading Graded Word Lists, are prepared in much the same way, and are used for a similar purpose. In preparing the Spelling Graded Word Lists, assemble the Teacher's Editions (TEs) of the district spelling textbooks, first through sixth grades. …