In Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2nd edition, 2005) definition of a language is stated as a system of communication consisting of sounds, words and grammar, or the system of communication used by the people of a particular country or profession. And that means, learning a language to communicate properly in that language requires mastering all parts of a language system such as the vocabulary, the grammar and the sound system. According to Dawani (2006) in order to communicate in a language one should study a balance of four basic language skills which are reading, listening, writing, and speaking. That’s why teaching and evaluation of these skills has a particular importance in language education. In this paper, the evaluation of one of “four basic language skills”, namely “Reading Skill” will be discussed in detail. However it is essential to lay some basic facts about “reading” before starting to discuss its evaluation.
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According to Alyousef (2005), as a definition, reading is can be perceived as an “interactive process”, leading to automaticity or fluency, between a text and a reader. Agreeing that, Rasinski (2004) states, accurate and automatic decoding of the words by giving its expressive interpretations to achieve maximum comprehension means reading fluency. Accordingly, Rasinski (2004) again states that reading does not merely mean accurate decoding of the words like teachers thought for years. And that’s why the assessment of reading should involve the ability of fluency and comprehension, for sure.
Reading in a different language has traditionally stemmed from the need of accessing the written literature of a high culture and as a material these literature pieces are used to work on as Byrnes (1998) suggests. As the aim of this kind of reading does not involve a real communication, the reading fluency is ignored. Later with the appearance of communicative approach, instead of high culture literature, reading texts started to be chosen according to the current reading aims, like using everyday materials such as newspaper articles, bus schedules, etc., for purposes to develop communicative competence. As a result, over time teaching of reading and reading drills at any levels became a fundamental part of language teaching.
According to Stages of Reading Development of Chall’s (1983) reading is a continuous process which develops through some certain stages. Agreeing that, Beers (2006) adds that in case of a skip in a reading development stage, students will struggle in their reading ability and eventually this will also affect their writing skills. That’s why teachers should be exclusively attentive to students’ comprehension of each stage of reading process before continuing with the next level. According to Carnine & Silbert (2004), “Assessments provide the information that will enable educators to provide children with instruction that starts where they are and then build on that base to help children advance to the higher levels.”(p. 13-15). As it is apparent from all these researchers’ statements, the evaluation of reading is a crucial part of teaching a language. Although most of the researches of that field unite in the importance of evaluation, they differ in the opinions for the evaluation mediums. No matter how much a particular evaluation type is praised by educators, in reality all of them has some advantages and disadvantages and use of these evaluation types is only a matter of preference.
Hughes (2007) states that all assessments are basically designed to develop the learning of students. Accordingly, evaluation is the process of gathering, utilizing a variety of sources and supplying students with descriptive feedback for future development. And these assessment processes are listed as following in various sources;
Informal Reading Inventories (IRIs)
In that evaluation type, the teacher decides a reading skill level by calculating the ratio of correctly read words in a passage as it is stated in NICHHD (2000). In IRIs, there are three main reading skill levels. According to Rasinski (2004) levels of performance for word decoding accuracy in reading can be listed as the following list;
Independent Level: 97-100% – Without Assistance
Instructional Level: 90-96% – With Assistance
Frustration Level: < 90% - Levels that should not be asked to read
The reason of these scale is explained in Mohler (2004) with a comparison of comprehension levels with these word accuracy levels; in independent level 90% or more comprehension, in instructional level 60% or more comprehension, and in Frustration level 50% or more comprehension occurs.
According to McEwan (2002) this measure of oral reading fluency is the most sensitive to the small changes in reading ability, simplest and quickest classroom assessment type that is known. Adams (1990) states that letter recognition speed and accuracy are essential for reading proficiency and growth as letter recognition sub-skill improves word recognition skill.
On the other hand, according to Rasinski (2004) in spite of the fact that IRIs value accuracy while determining the overall performance level of readers, they demand reader to read several word lists and passages orally and to be examined on their comprehension of each passage which eventually leads to one to two hours of endeavor for a complete IRI. In contrast to what Adams (1990) says, Rasinski (2004) finds it very time-consuming, particularly in case an application of the inventory to a struggling reader.
Gunther (2007) defines miscue as any unpredictable calling of a word or section of text. The inventor of this analysis type, Ken Goodman specifically avoids using the term “error” instead of “miscalling” because of its negative implications. Goodman (1969) declares that a departure from the text does not necessarily exhibit a negative side of the reading process but it rather opens “a window on the reading process” which can assist both teachers and students. Using this method, a teacher can be more easily aware of the students’ comprehension by looking at the kind of mistakes he/she makes.
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According to Gunther (2007) miscue analysis particularly focuses on the readers’ “cueing system” similar to the ones used to describe the results of running records. These cueing systems are listed as the followings; the graphophonic system (visual cues in running records), the syntactic system (syntax or structure cues in running records), and the semantic system (meaning cues in running records). In these cueing systems, there are six types of miscues as stated here; 1st Correction: A child self-corrects his/her error and re-reads the section/word without prompting, 2nd Insertion: A child adds a few words which are not on the page, 3rd Omission: A child omits a word while reading a text, 4th Repetition: A child repeats a word or some part of the text, 5th Reversal: A child will reverse the order of the text or the word, 6th Substitution: A child places a different word, instead of reading a particular word.
According to Wilde (2000) instead of focusing more on the number of miscues as in running records, miscue analysis is more concerned with type of miscues because being a good reader does not necessarily require a word-by-word comprehension of the text. Due to the fact that skipping, substituting, miscalling words does not necessarily make someone a bad reader, miscue analysis respects the reasons of miscues and develops the reading success of the given student according to the information gained by the analysis.
However according to Kuroneko (2008) a technical knowledge of linguistic concepts and long succeeding analysis is required to conduct Goodman’s miscue analysis that’s why it is a complicated process to learn.
Running Records is defined by Clay (1985) as a teacher adjustment to run a miscue analysis in the busy atmosphere of the classroom. According to Hughes (2007) diagnostic, formative and summative assessments can be conducted via running records. However using solely running records does not give enough evidence for evaluation purposes. According to Glover (2008) this type of assessment is useful for deciding the level of text used by the teacher and student and gaining the insights of the strategy types a child utilizes while reading. There are two separate parts of this assessment: the running record and a comprehension check. In running record part, the teacher basically uses some marking conventions and symbols to record the reader’s reading manner including accuracies, errors, assistance from the teacher and self-corrections while he/she continuous to read from the book and in comprehension check part the teacher utilizes retelling method by asking some comprehension questions as it is stated in “A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading, Kindergarten to Grade 3” (2003, p.12, 27).
While the teacher is evaluating the errors, he/she investigates them from three aspects as it is expressed by Gunther (2007); 1st Meaning: whether the meaning of the text has an influence on the child’s reading, 2nd Syntax: whether the child reads in a grammatically and linguistically reasonable way, 3rd Visual: whether the child is mistaken for another word because of the words appearance/letters.
According to what is mentioned by Gunther (2007), a teacher can decide a learning point utilizing students’ errors as an instantaneous chance for further learning because running records reveals the students’ cuing system and self correction patterns. Correspondingly, Johnston (1997) also states that comprehending the reasons behind errors, a teacher can put his/her knowledge of instruction to use to guide the student to learn. In “A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading, Kindergarten to Grade 3” (2003) the advantages of using running records are stated as followings; being an efficient and effective medium to record independent reading behaviors and providing a chance for teachers to observe students’ use of cues and strategies during an oral reading. Despite the time it takes to evaluate all students individually, running records when conducted on a regular basis creates a rich source of assessment information on the continuous development of an individual.
De Leon (2009), on the other hand, lists some of the disadvantages this evaluation type posses as followings; requirement of fluent use of language, dependence on the ability to observe details and write quickly, making the student feel watched, become uncomfortable thus destruction of the nature of the recording, causing the teacher to be unavailable to control the classroom because of being focused on the recording, giving information about only one student at one time and can be tiring for the recorder because of its intensity.
As it is apparent from the article, there are various evaluation types for the assessment of reading skill. While this is the case, the important question to ask can be the aim of the researcher/teacher when conducting one of the reading assessment methods. Although all of them stem from the need for improving the teaching quality of reading ability, they all differ from each other with the ways they try to achieve this. Some of them are depending on the number of the miscalled words while another one is paying attention to the type of miscalling. All of them have some week points compared to others as it can be seen by the objections of various researchers. Although, personally, I found, among all assessment types, “running records” very useful to learn the insights of the reading ability of a student, I also agree with the researchers who are opposed to this evaluation method because of its excessive needs. Just because of the time and attention demanded by this assessment, the application of it to the real circumstances becomes nearly impossible.
As a conclusion, it can be clearly said that all the evaluation methods have their advantages and disadvantages coming with them. As long as they are conducted with a special care, all methods can assist students to improve their reading skills.
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