Now What? (Assessment Demo)

Increasing accountability has resulted in increased assessment of student progress. Shaunna strives to make learning fun for her students and to support their social and emotional growth. Meanwhile, her focus on literacy instruction has generated some unexpected challenges. Making meaningful connections between assessment results and instructional decisions creates a real test for this new teacher.

Shaunna and her new K-1 students get acquainted and begin to address instructional needs.

Some kids just seemed to teach themselves to read. Or, so it appeared. Most of the students in my K-1 class came to me well prepared, having been completely immersed in books, language, and reading-readiness activities by families who knew what to do with preschoolers and had the means to do it. They were among the lucky ones. And, they were certainly a blessing to me during my first year teaching. There was a lot to attend to, and their successes allowed me to focus on some of the other issues competing for my attention, like getting to know the curriculum, writing weekly newsletters to families, turning in detailed lesson plans to my principal, answering a constant stream of emails from parents, and understanding special education jargon during eligibility meetings.

Andrew and Shaunna were both confronted by challenges in their new classroom.

One student, Andrew, was like his classmates in many ways, but reading just wasn’t his thing. For most of the fall he struggled with rhyme and word recognition, timidly approached even familiar books, and looked at me with wide, startled eyes when I asked him to tackle something new.

I knew the feeling. When I was offered my first teaching job at this magnet school, everything was new to me. I had been expecting that. But I hadn’t been expecting my graduate-level reading course to leave me so ill-prepared to teach a K-1 class. I remembered well the professor who sat at her desk reading to us from her notebook about theory after theory while doing little to suggest how to apply them in a classroom. On back to school night, my eyes were as wide as Andrew’s. There I stood, facing a class of 24 kindergarteners and first-graders—and their parents—all expecting me to transform the little ones into enthusiastic readers.

Unlike my more able students, there were a few, like Andrew, who continued to struggle. I’d tried every trick I could remember from my own elementary school days, but mostly what I remembered was loving books and reading a lot. I knew I needed help, so by Halloween I was enrolled in a reading instruction course. I lapped up everything the instructor said about language development, teaching skills in context, and making learning fun. Before long, our classroom was full of songs and poems, big books, small books, creative drama, and basals. It was a rich and varied literacy diet that seemed to be working. I was hopeful that what I needed was to wrap these kids in language and let them soak it soak it up like little sponges. I crossed my fingers and kept working.

Eventually, Andrew’s reading blossomed, seemingly before my very eyes. One day he was struggling to connect words to print, and the next day he walked into the classroom, headed straight for our library, picked-up Go Dog, Go, walked over to me, and said, “Look! I can read this!” And, read it he did. Although it was a simple book and one he’d undoubtedly seen often at school and at home, his relief and delight were contagious. He began to lose the scared look and sometimes even volunteered to participate in his reading group. Go Dog, Go,became one of his favorites, and I had him read it to me whenever we had the chance.


    • In terms of fluency, how would you characterize Andrew’s reading?

    • Describe Go, Dog, Go from a text perspective. What type of book is it? What type of reader is the book recommended for? For what type of reader would the book be an inappropriate instructional use?
  • Explain one method the teacher could use to assess Andrew’s comprehension of Go,

Kindergartener Andrew’s fragile disposition challenges Shaunna’s ability to give him feedback on his writing progress.

My relief at Andrew’s blossoming was short-lived. As soon as we jumped one hurdle, there was another one before us. Andrew’s writing was lagging behind his reading progress. He became so engrossed in his work that you’d have thought he was writing a dissertation, but instead what he produced usually looked more like a chicken had tap-danced across his paper wearing dirty shoes.

After working quietly for some time one crisp morning, Andrew approached me and hesitantly handed me his latest. “Nice work!” I paused. “Andrew, let’s work on putting some spaces between words. Can we pick a little bit of what you’ve written to rewrite with spaces?”

He looked at me without expression as tears spilled onto his cheeks. I immediately regretted what I’d said and added, “Oh, don’t cry…”

“OK,” he managed, standing up tall and drawing a deep breath. He turned off his tears so instantaneously that it seemed he’s sucked them back up into his head. I felt even worse then, having squashed his emotions. I was at a loss for what to do next.

See Andrew’s writing sample below:


  • What does Andrew’s writing sample suggest about his level of word knowledge? Considering the continuum of reading and writing, what skills has Andrew learned? What skills need to be learned?
  • Analyze Andrew’s sample for elements of legibility (e.g. letter formation, size and proportion, spacing, slant, alignment, and line quality). Based on this analysis, create three instructional goals for Andrew.

The diversity among her students enriches Shaunna’s class while it challenges her instructional approaches.

I loved show-and-tell. It provided a rare moment in our school day when my students could be in charge of what we thought about together, and it was a fascinating window into their worlds. Madison informed us that her family had just bought a house on the shore and that they were planning to decorate it with a duck motif. She stood there beaming, biting her lip and trying not to squirm. She was delighted with her parents’ selection of this cute animal for decorating their big house, and at the same time she was oblivious—especially to Harold.

Madison and Harold share little more than their classroom and an occasional book.

Harold was also pretty oblivious to Madison, and with good reason. That morning he informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the night before. His neighbor had been robbed at gunpoint on his way home from work, and the sirens, lights, and resulting activity on his block had kept him awake. Ducks and guns. We had it all in my class.

I was constantly amazed and bewildered by this variety. And although I was thankful that I only had a smattering of struggling kids in the mix, I definitely identified more with the Harolds of the world than with the Madisons. Regardless, it was a challenge to meet everyone’s needs. The academic diversity was just as real as the disparity among home lives for these students, and I struggled to make sense of what to do with everyone.

Shaunna feels like an early reader must when she tries to make sense of her students’ mid-year assessment results.

Winter came and clogged our city streets just as we regrouped after the holiday crush. The snow days and dark evenings allowed me quiet time for reading and planning at home, and I was thankful for the opportunity to slow down and focus. Now halfway through my first year of teaching, I was anxious review the mid-year assessment results and see how far we’d come. And how far we had to go.

Despite his reading growth, Andrew’s emotional state and writing progress had remained tenuous throughout the fall, so I was especially curious about his scores. After muscling through the various assessments with each of my students, I was left exhausted with piles of scores to digest and one nagging question: Now what?

See Andrew’s DIBELS results below:

See midyear DIBELs kindergarten scores from Shaunna’s class below:

See Andrew’s PALS results below:

See midyear DIBELs kindergarten scores from Shaunna’s class below:


  • Based on his assessment results and other information in the case, draft a letter to Andrew’s family that communicates Andrew’s strengths and weaknesses, including summer recommendations.
  • Rewatch the assessment videos. Score the DIBELS tasks using blank scoring forms. Analyze and interpret Andrew’s scores. Based on these scores, is Andrew at risk for reading failure? Defend your answer.
  • Using the midyear scores from Shaunna’s class, form groups for intervention work. Which students would you group together, and why?
  • Plan one lesson for one of the small groups you created. Provide rationale, objectives, materials, procedures, and assessment.
  • What do you consider to be the top five instructional practices that should be occurring within this classroom? Why?