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15 Apr 2014

Authentic Reading Assessment: Practices and Possibilities

Sheila W. Valencia, Elfrieda H. Hiebert & Peter P. Afflerbach


Valencia, S.W., Hiebert, E.H., & Afflerbach, P.P., (2014). Authentic Reading Assessment: Practices and possibilities. (reprint of 1994 edition). Santa Cruz: TextProject, Inc.

Valencia Hiebert Afflerbach 2014 v1 Authentic Reading Assessment cover

Assessment is one of the most important and pressing issues facing the literacy community. At every turn, we are hearing and telling others that we must reform assessment if we are going to help students become thoughtful, critical, responsive, and effective readers and writers. Although the current movement for reform is fairly new, interest and motivation within it are high; educators are anxious to find ways to overcome problems associated with traditional assessment practices.

Dozens of new assessment initiatives have been implemented in the past several years. Many of these are the result of grassroots efforts at the state/province, school district, or classroom level that have not been shared outside the community in which they were developed. This lack of communication limits the degree to which the assessments can benefit from experiences of others working on similar initiatives; it may result in duplication of effort and, ultimately, little progress in the field as a whole. When communication about these projects does occur, it frequently takes the form of informal conversation about surface features and logistics, rather than the deep, focused discussion that should accompany and enhance new assessment efforts.

For assessment to be effective and feasible, we need descriptions and perspectives: we need to know what the assessment looks like, how it was constructed, the conceptual framework for its development, and its intended purpose. We need to be able to step back to take a critical look at our assessment reform efforts. Without reflection and an understanding of assumptions and processes, we may not design assessments that accomplish their intended goals. It is as necessary to ask "Did the assessment accomplish its intended aim?" as "What does this assessment look like?"

Authentic Reading Assessment: Practices and Possibilities examines both questions. Its purpose is to share information about new assessment efforts and to foster communication and dialogue about both the products and the processes of development. In Part One we elaborate on various definitions of and perspectives on authentic reading assessment. This section provides a framework and vocabulary for understanding authentic assessment initiatives. Parts two to four describe nine assessment programs that were selected from more than 50 projects in the United States, Canada, and Australia to represent a balance of different types of assessments, geographic regions, and levels at which the information gained from the assessments is used and reported.

We recognize that there are different audiences for different types of information about reading assessment. However, we feel it is important that each audience gains an understanding of the perspectives and methods of the others. Parts two to four of Authentic Reading Assessment are intended to highlight the needs of various audiences. Part Two, edited by Sheila Valencia, focuses on the classroom with particular emphasis on how information gathered during instruction is used for assessment and decision-making that contribute to student learning. The classroom assessment projects described do not formally address accountability issues or the reporting of information to other audiences. Part Three, edited by Elfrieda Hiebert, presents assessment projects that have been implemented at the classroom level and used to report to other audiences. The chapters in this section represent examples of ongoing classroom assessments designed to yield information that can be used for programmatic and systemwide student evaluation. Part Four, edited by Peter Afflerbach, addresses large-scale assessment. It includes reports on three reading assessment programs in which large numbers of students take new types of literacy tests or engage in literacy tasks in a fairly standard situation. The chapters in this section have implications for classroom, school, and district personnel, as well as for state/provincial assessment and curriculum leaders. Not only will the form of new large-scale assessments influence curricula and instruction, but the experiences of implementing and conducting these projects will serve as a guide to administrators and classroom teachers as they struggle with their own assessment development, evaluation and scoring, and reporting of information.

The book closes with Part Five's summary of the trends in authentic reading assessment and suggestions regarding future issues. Here we address the accomplishments of and the problems facing new assessments so that, as a profession, we will be more likely to contribute to their successful development and implementation.

The chapters in this volume focus on reading assessment, although in most of the projects, students generate written work as well. We have chosen to highlight the aspects of these cases that focus on constructing meaning from text in written or oral form. Literacy professionals have been making great progress in teaching and assessing writing, but we are still struggling with assessment of reading and the reading process. Therefore, in this volume we focus on reading assessment and integrated reading-writing assessment.

The authors of each chapter have worked directly on the assessment they describe. Their work here is intended to provide readers with a description of each project, including its purpose, conceptual framework, development, and format. Since goals, instruction, and assessment intersect in complex ways and should be tailored to each school, community, or state/province, readers should not expect the chapters to include all the information they would need to replicate the project. Instead, these case studies have been written to provide sufficient information to enable readers to identify projects similar to their own or to inspire them to think about directions for the future.

In addition, the volume offers insights on the projects from two perspectives. The chapter authors offer one-the thoughts and reflections of each project's designers and implementers-and the second comes in the commentaries that follow each chapter. In these, a "chapter respondent" who has dealt with similar issues in the design and implementation of other assessment efforts provides critical analysis, clarification, and insight about each project. These responses are intended to foster discussion by highlighting important aspects and merits of each project as well as raising issues that need to be addressed. Clearly, for successful reform of assessment, such dialogue is critical. We hope this book will encourage you to enter into the exchange.

April 22, 2014 update. Download of book now includes chapters 1 & 11.