The Orton-Gillingham Guide to Reading Assessments

Teachers can better inform goals for reading instruction by administering a variety of reading assessments.

Educators have the ability to improve student learning through reading assessments.

Teachers can better inform their decisions about the content students are learning and the goals of that instruction by administering a variety of reading assessments.

Answering critical questions like, “are my students learning?” is fundamental in helping teachers to determine what to teach and how to teach it. 

Thoughtful reading assessment allows teachers to focus on matching instruction and content to goals and maximize their time. Both the teacher and the students benefit when an assessment is directly aligned with instruction. 

Reading assessments can serve a myriad of purposes and come in many different forms. They may be formal or informal and are multi-faceted. They help us to analyze the learner’s quantitative and qualitative performance as it represents both process (how the student learns best) and product (what the student has learned).

It is essential for teachers to establish the start line, the finish, and plan for frequent “checkpoints” along the way as they lead their students on the marathon of learning. Teachers will want to prepare a compilation of assessments that provide direct answers to their questions about student learning and drive important decisions about their instructional approach. 

The Orton-Gillingham method points to various types of assessments that teachers will want to consider during planning.

Diagnostic Assessment

The diagnostic assessment is administered as a pre-test or at the beginning of a unit or lesson. This form of assessment allows the educator to answer the question “How much does this student already know about this (subject area, topic, content)?” and gauges the student’s pre-knowledge. A diagnostic assessment provides information about the student’s areas of weakness and strengths to the educator.

Results can guide the teacher’s development of lesson planning, learning objectives, and identification of concepts that are in need of review. The teacher will be able to see how much knowledge the student has gained during the instructional period when followed by a post-test. The comparison of pre and post-test results can, when shared with students, serve as a critical tool to build their self-esteem through the efficacy and support of instructional methods. 

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are given during the learning process and provide actionable, real-time feedback to teachers, serving many purposes. The word formative, from the Latin word “formare,” means to shape or form.

This reading assessment indicates how the teacher is teaching and how the students are learning. The formative assessment, easy and quick to implement, yields powerful information to drive instruction. From the results of this assessment, the instruction is formed or shaped to fit the student’s needs. The teacher can engage in continuous adjustments to instruction in order to match the student needs through formative assessments conducted daily or weekly. 

The formative assessment can be considered a frequent “check-up” that is necessary to ensure individualized instruction. The results can help to place students into groupings and directly guide the teacher to make critical decisions about differentiation to enhance learning. A variety of important questions are answered by formative assessments:

  • What did my students take away from this lesson?
  • Am I effectively reaching my students with my teaching strategies?
  • Which errors are common and which are individual?
  • Did I reach my target teaching goals?
  • What is my next step with instruction?

Interim Assessment

The interim reading assessment analyzes the overall performance of a population (grade, school, District) or larger group. This assessment allows for teachers and administrators to track student progress and is administered at specific times of the year. Interim checks can help to guide decisions regarding the overall effectiveness of methods, general accountability, and instructional content. 

Summative Assessment

The summative reading assessment is administered at the end of a specified instructional period. It answers the question “How effective was instruction?” Educators can see how much content was retained by the students through the results of this assessment. It also supports administrators and teachers to review content to inform decisions going forward and reflect on instructional practices in the past.

Teaching to the “sweet spot”

The zone of proximal development (ZPD) is an assessment that helps us outline the skills that may be too difficult for the student to master on his own, but have great potential for mastery with modeling and guidance from a knowledgeable instructor.

Often referred to as the “sweet spot” of learning, the ZPD plays a key role in targeting the ZPD for students. Instruction is at risk for being below the ZPD or above the ZPD if assessment is left out. Assessments allow teachers to isolate the skills that need support while planning meaningful instruction for all learners when in combination with clear target skills and learning outcomes. The mastery of skills in the ZPD, by way of assessment, includes:

  • Ask a student to answer the question “How do you know?” In spelling dictation, this gives the student an opportunity to use concept knowledge to explain the spelling rule, pattern, or position that is applied in a word. 
  • Modeling “how to” provides the student with opportunities to spell a similar word or apply similar rules or strategies to spelling.
  • Putting students in small groups or a pair and share and having them discuss a new concept, review a rules notebook, or discuss multiple spellings before initiating practice.
  • Using visual aids to help students conceptualize a concept, such as hand gestures for morpheme identification, rules posters, or mnemonics.
  • Asking students to use prior knowledge to better understand more complex concepts.
  • Walking students through the self-editing process to activate strategies to check for accuracy and understanding. 

Reading assessments provide data that is all too often easy to get caught up in. However, teachers still need to recognize the value of implementing varied and frequent assessments. These tools can tell us a great deal about the trajectory of learning for each student throughout their academic journey

Some instruction is cyclical and will resurface topics such as writing mechanics, parts of speech, and grammar usage from one year to the next. Administering an assessment can determine if students are retaining content that has been revisited over time. Other knowledge stacks, such as building blocks, allow learners to link new knowledge to existing information in ways that complement their learning style.

It should be noted that educators must make sure that their reading assessments are administered for other reasons rather than emphasizing outcomes. The benefits of assessment are clear and above all else, can measure the effectiveness of learning strategies, providing vital information about the student’s instructional needs, responsiveness to teaching, and future learning potential.