Last week we discussed the necessity of conducting a reading evaluation for any child struggling with the reading process, and five of the eight elements that evaluation should contain to be effective. This week we will describe the remaining three elements – written expression, spelling, and reading comprehension – and how they impact the evaluation and reading itself.
- Written expression
Some children who have difficulty expressing themselves orally may also have difficulty expressing themselves in writing and understanding expression as it appears in a printed text. Most of the time, the difficulty occurs in both formulating and organizing language.
A proper written language evaluation will take a look at a child’s ability to use correct spelling, form complex sentences, use appropriate grammar, and use grade-appropriate vocabulary. These provide both a key to understanding how he expresses himself and to determining if there are underlying issues in comprehension and decoding.
“Encoding” is the term for the ability to represent what is spoken in written form; we take phonemes and put them into a code. However, reading is a “decoding” process; we take words from the code and translate them into meaning. Spelling and reading are therefore opposite processes.
A reading evaluation should include three different types of spelling evaluation. In the first, the evaluator should obtain an example of the child’s unedited written work. In the second, the evaluator will conduct a dictated spelling test, where the student is asked to write down the words based on phonological awareness and grade-appropriate vocabulary. In the third, the evaluator will ask the child to produce a writing sample. This last writing sample will be analyzed for skills in both written expression as well as in spelling. Many students do better on dictated spelling tests than on actual writing tasks, where they’re asked to put words into context. Spelling errors provide insight into both spelling and reading problems, as children who have difficulty with reading usually also have difficulty with spelling.
- Reading Comprehension
To assess a child’s reading comprehension ability, he will be asked to read several passages and then answer a series of questions about the content. This allows the evaluator to determine whether a student can actually follow what he reads. While related to listening comprehension, reading comprehension is a more complex process; it requires that the child be able to decode the written material, understand the message of the combined words, and then recall the information at a later time.
Accurate decoding is essential for good reading comprehension, particularly as students advance to higher grade levels where reading becomes more difficult, and it becomes harder to guess at unfamiliar words based on the reading’s context.
Some students, especially those with strong verbal reasoning abilities, are able to use their background knowledge in addition to the story content to piece together the reading’s complete information; this may be true even though they may have significant trouble reading the words in the text. Evaluators must watch for some telltale signs of reading difficulty. First, some students struggle so hard to sound out (decode) each of the words that reliably determining their reading comprehension is not possible. Second, some students, particularly those with language-processing problems, have trouble understanding what they read as the sentences become longer and more complex as a result of weak verbal memory or attention deficit problems. Third, some children work so hard to sound out what they are trying to read that they fail to understand even what they are able to decode. Children with weak reading comprehension require different types of interventions than those who have difficulty with decoding. For those students who have trouble in both areas, the interventions must include help with both decoding and reading comprehension.
Vocabulary is an important part of reading comprehension, and vocabulary tests are also a necessary part of a reading comprehension evaluation. Students should be familiar with grade-appropriate vocabulary lists and should not have difficulty decoding these words or understanding their meanings.
- The Reports
There are two other areas, a classroom observation and a written report, which must be included with any evaluation. The observation should focus on whether the reading instruction, both inside and outside of the classroom, meets the student’s needs. Of particular importance is the coordination between classroom instruction and any specialized reading instruction that takes place apart from it. Coordination of instruction is critical to the success of any reading intervention. Also of importance is how the student responds to his reading instruction, whether it be in a full classroom, in a small group of students, or with a one-on-one specialist.
The written report should include a review of all the areas discussed above and in Part 1 of this blog post. Of particular importance are:
- A summary of the student’s developmental, medical, behavioral, and educational history; physical, social-emotional, and language development; and any family history of reading problems or contributing medical problems.
- An analysis of your child’s intellectual and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as well as an analysis of his academic strengths and weaknesses.
- A list of all tests given, along with detailed analyses of your child’s performance on those tests. Scores for all standardized tests should be provided, along with a discussion of your child’s ability to manage the demands of the tests.
- Specific recommendations based on your child’s academic, intellectual, cognitive, emotional, and developmental needs. An analysis of the child’s underlying problem should be countered with a specific plan of action for remediation.
It is critical that you, as a parent, have access to and understand the document. If you have any questions, bring them up with the evaluator and/or any reading specialist working with your child. By being fully informed about capabilities and weaknesses that need to be shored up, you can be an effective advocate for your child and ensure he gets the educational support he needs.
Note: AceReader is a Reading Efficiency tool that can be used in the remediation process. It does not deal specifically with decoding, but it does address reading fluency through grade-leveled Reading Comprehension Tests and Eye Pacing Drills. And, with its built-in Vocabulary Flash Card Game, it can be used to improve students’ grade-appropriate reading vocabulary.