Literacy Assessment for Students with Complex Needs

As our approach to literacy learning shifts around the students that I have on my caseload I am finding a need to take a different approach to literacy assessment.  Gone are the days where I can just say where they are in the Edmark Reading program or write general statements in regards to how they have engaged in literacy experiences.  When you make the end goal letter by letter generative reading and writing it changes things. 
This is a work in progress and I'm trying to develop a system where literacy skills are assessed at the beginning of the year and each of the three reporting periods.  Each of these assessments would then be used to guide our literacy programming for that student for the upcoming term. 
 
Emergent-Transitional-Conventional Reading Rubric
Kathy Strauler Literacy Rubric (2007)
 
This rubric allows for getting baseline information as to where students are at on the emergent to conventional reading skills continuum.  The process involves you engaging the student in reading and rating them in the areas of phonemic awareness, concepts of print, word recognition, fluency and comprehension.  I see this as a starting point and a neat one-page overview.  Assessment is meant to guide us as educators so we know what the next step will be in facilitating increased literacy learning.  On the reading front, this can be done by usign the more extensive Emergent Literacy Behaviour Checklist for students at the emergent level or by completing a Whole to Part assessment for those moving in to the Conventional Level (see below). 
 
I posted about the "Interactive to Independent Model" a couple of days back. The document that I linked there includes explanations and examples of things to be working on for both reading and writing at each the emergent, transitional and conventional stages.  This has just become one more resource in my "what do I do with this assessment data" toolbox.  
 
 
Emergent Writing Data Collection Form
 
The rubric I posted above does not include a section for writing.  I have to say that I thought very little about writing for my students before this past couple of years.  The writing students did was actually copying and/or fill in the blank choice types of activities.  Because of their limited communication systems, I didn't feel like we had a lot of other options because I felt they needed to know and understand the alphabet and letter sounds before you could start working on authentic writing. 
 
Two things changed this. The first was taking a PODD workshop from Linda Burkhart and coming to understand the movement away from the reductionist approach and towards giving students extensive vocabulary in their communication systems.  The second was going to the "Literacy and AAC" course by David Koppenhaver and Karen Erickson and seeing alternate pencils in action at the same time as getting a better understanding of writing and motivation.  At the course David Koppenhaver talked about "functions of literacy" rather than "functional literacy" and this really struck a chord with me.  By taking things apart and breaking it in to what we percieve to be small and manageable pieces we take away the function and meaning and therefore also take away the motivation to write.  I was reminded of how children progress through the emergent stage of writing by going from scribbling to letter like scribbling and moving through an exploration process until they begin to write in more conventional ways.  I could clearly see how important is was that we allow students with complex needs to also go through these stages and that we provide them with whatever type of pencil and paper they need from the start rather than putting pre-requisites on being able to write. 
 
The approach we are taking is that of "writing without conventions".  We are finding things to write about and ensuring that we have visuals or some way of knowing what the student is writing about.  This might be linked to curriculum material (go online and find visuals if there aren't any in the curriculum materials we are using), something that has happened to them (we are using Remnant books, step-by-step communications, home-school communication books, personal cameras as ways to track and be aware of the "stories" that our students have to tell us in the hopes that they will have the same story telling experiences other students have), giving choices of topics or responding to what they are saying with their communication systems to find topics.  We then get out the alternate pencil and start the writing process, accepting any writing that is given (pounding on keyboard, eye gaze process of partner-assisted scanning through alphabet flip books).  We are just new to the process so I can't yet share great success stories.  I am including the data collection form that speaks to the progression that students are to take through this process below.  This is just one part of their literacy programming.  They are also doing word work, reading work, communication work and some are exploring programs like Clicker and Intellikeys at the same time. 
 
Information on Alternative Pencils can be found on the Center for Literacy and Disabilities Website: http://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clds/products/available-for-purchase
 
Link to Emergent Writing Data Collection Form: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0BxGmSYp3oABNSzJZbWxxMllwZFE
 
 Emergent Literacy Behaviour Checklist
Alberta Education - Litearcy for All Pilot Project (2012-13)
 
Part of the "Literacy for All" project that I have been involved in for the past two years has involved the development of an "Emergent Literacy Beavhiour Checklist".  This assessment looks at (1) interaction with books, (2) engagement in the act of reading, (3) interactions during literacy activities, (4) engagement in storytelling, (5) interactions with symbols/print, (6) drawing/writing and representing, and (7) alphabet knowledge.  I have found it useful in setting goals and thinking about next steps when working with students at the emergent stage.  I have a lot more thoughts on emergent activities related to engaging with books, communicating related to books, alphabet awareness, use of technology for reading, social interaction when reading...etc. that I will share in future posts.  Once again, that love and understanding of books and reading will provide the needed motivation to move in to more conventional forms of reading. 
 
Whole to Part Reading Assessment
 
 
As students with complex communication needs move from emergent literacy to conventional literacy, assessments shift from purely observational rubric types of assessments.  Barriers exist here because many conventional assessments rely on speaking or writing and some of the students I have on my caseload are not able to do this effectively enough to give a really clear picture of what they know.  Ultimately, the goal of reading instruction is silent reading with comprehension. 
 
Whole-to-Part is a reading intervention system based on research by Jim Cunningham.  The assessment process involves the following three domains:
  • Word Identification - being able to read words quickly and easily
  • Listening Comprehension - listening and understanding when someone reads a story
  • Silent Reading - reading and understanding what is read silently
I have had two different opportunities in the last two years to attend workshops/courses on how to modify this assessment process for students with complex communication needs.  It involves using a standard reading assessment (we are using Jerry Johns) and modifying tasks so that students will be able to answer receptively.  So for word identification, students are presented with a power point slide that has four words (one in each corner) and asked to eye gaze or point to a given word (or this could be done on paper or with word cards).  For listening and reading comprehension, the answers to the mulitple choice questions are presented in the same way and the student picks the most appropriate one.  Doing a google search on "Whole to Part Assessment" genreates a lot of presentations and handouts that more fully explain the process.  I am just at the point where I have one of the students on my caseload and the materials ready to give it a go and see what we get for results. 
 
The purpose of the assessment is to know where to focus extra effort in order to move that student along the continuum of silent reading with comprehension.  The one I found interesting in this assessment is the listening comprehension as it speaks to the need for the student to have receptive understanding.  Many of my students probably have less "life experience" than others due to the complications and medical needs that come with creating those life experiences.  It speaks to how important it is to build background knowledge, focus on vocabulary and make connections.  It always goes back to that "input before output" approach. 
 
Here is a great document that answers the question of what to do with the assessment data. For many of my students we are finding ways to embed all the elements of literacy in to general education curriculum but I'm also looking to do daily intervention pull out with them and this gives a framework for those who are moving in to the more conventional levels. Although it is all a balancing act right now as we move between two different delivery methods in the middle of these changes. 
 
 
Alberta Education Inclusive Education Literacy Rubrics
| Writing | Viewing and Representing | Listening | Speaking | Working with Others Rubrics |
 
I wanted to just mention these.  I have not yet used them but I see a lot of promise in these as possible assessment tools as well.  Right now they are part of the IEPT (Inclusive Education Planning Tool) that is being piloted across Alberta.  I could eventually see these being used as part of a beginning of the year assessment package to help guide us in deciding on goals for those students who are at this more conventional level. 
 
Link to Literacy Rubrics (under Language Arts tab): http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/ieptLibrary/index.html

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