Designed Learning & Designing Learning

Championing curriculum-based assessments & science of reading

by Dr Gail Brown | February 27, 2022
Championing curriculum-based assessments & science of reading

This post is a short summary of Hugh Catts article in the current issue of The Reading League Journal: Why state reading tests are poor benchmarks of student success. The Reading League for a scientific approach to reading instruction and  Hugh Catts’ paper should be of interest to all classroom teachers and school leaders. While the focus is on American assessments, many would argue that the issues he raises are likely to apply to any high stakes assessment of reading comprehension, anywhere in the world. Teachers and school leaders should try to access this important paper and make their own judgements as to whether the issues Catts raises apply to their high stakes assessments, at state or national level.

Catts links large scale assessments with school systems and legal requirements of schools & their purpose is “to evaluate and assure adequate progress in reading achievement” (page 15) – a worthy goal likely to be important to parents, teachers and students. Catts cites evidence-based research to support every issue he raises…

Student  & Teacher effects

* a heavy reliance on what students know - their general knowledge & language knowledge;

*some students are disadvantaged - they may lack general knowledge and language skills, including a lack of English knowledge;

* in some countries, teacher employment is dependent on results;

* lack of match between state reading tests and all curriculum, especially topics in texts;

* teachers lack specific information about which knowledge and skills are assessed – so may struggle to support student learning using results from state tests;

* “teaching to the test” is not likely to support student learning nor improve scores on state tests.

Catts also outlines some school issues and effects, using specific American examples.

More importantly, he emphasises alternative approaches to instruction and assessment (page 20). He champions the importance of teaching knowledge (facts and information) along with reading, and that this should happen in all content areas. Catts cites evidence-based research supporting this integration for building knowledge and literacy skills together, demonstrating improvements in student vocabulary, oral language and reading comprehension. Again, these are American examples, that teachers everywhere can learn more from, and replicate in some way, within their classrooms, their curriculum and their school context.

Catts strongly supports curriculum-based assessments of content-rich curriculum knowledge as well as literacy. He emphasizes using curriculum-based assessments as assessments for learning, to plan and inform classroom instruction – formative assessment. His first conclusion is that state assessments are likely to remain, and to repeat that it’s likely these “are not specifically linked to the curriculum” (page 22).  However, Catts again cites evidence “that countries that have moved to  content-rich curricula have had improvements in reading achievement, while those with more skills-based instruction have not” (page 22).

Throughout this paper, Catts (2022) is strongly advocating that curriculum-based assessment is more appropriate and more equitable for all students. The issues he raises likely apply to both online and hardcopy state assessments - possibly more so to online, adaptive assessments. When an experienced literacy researcher makes such strong claims, supported by evidence-based research and a group of educators championing the science of reading – I would hope that teachers would read, listen, reflect and use this to improve their classroom instruction. Please email me, if you would like any further details or information about this paper, curriculum-based assessment, formative assessment or using this approach!  

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