+ Adult Reading Skills: Resource for Assessment and Instruction

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The Fall, 2007 edition of IDA’s quarterly “Perspectives” is devoted to the needs of adult learners (this can include teen-agers, pre-GED) who need help with reading skills.

Sometimes teachers and tutors lacking resources or up-to-date methods for assessment as well as instruction need help.  Some, for example, volunteer tutors, lack much background knowledge for teaching  reading.

A great deal of attention, and research, has been directed at this need.  The National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) wants to disseminate the best, research-based advice available.  Go to the Adult Reading Components Study (ARCS) website:  www.nifl.gov/readingprofiles/.  You will find some description below.

But first, here are “Tips for Assessing the Reading of Adult Learners”, adapted from The Handbook of Reading Assessment, by S M Bell and R Steve McCallum (2008), published by Allyn & Bacon.

TIPS For Assessing Adults

  1. Take time to establish rapport; explain the nature and purpose of the assessments, and ensure that scores will be confidential.
  2. Assess all the various areas of reading (i.e. phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) for adult beginning readers — don’t assume that adults possess basic word analysis skills.
  3. Use multiple measures to provide a complete assessment of what the learner can do.
  4. Ensure that assessment materials contain age-appropriate reading material.
  5. Assess oral reading rate.  Adults who read at 125 words correct per minute (wcpm) or less will need further assessment.
  6. Many informal assessment strategies and techniques (i.e., miscue analysis, curriculum-based measures of oral reading fluency) designed for children and adolescents will be acceptable for assessing adults, but only if the stimulus reading material is age-appropriate.
  7. Assess adult learners’ educational histories, background experiences, and interests, as well as specific reading skills.
  8. Use alternative or authentic measures as appropriate; for example, portfolio assessment, journals, and work samples.
  9. Use teacher-constructed curriculum-based measurement (CBM) with authentic materials, such as domestic (i.e., cooking, home maintenance, lawn care) or work-related reading materials.
  10. Assess phonemic skills of adult non-readers (research indicates they possess virtually no phonemic awareness.)
  11. Adults have stronger vocabularies than young children because of their life experiences.  This knowledge should be assessed and used as a building-block of reading.
  12. Consider using instruments that possess functional and workplace literacy skills, such as the Brigance Diagnostic Life Skills Inventory and Brigance Diagnostic Employability Skills Inventory, published by Curriculum Associates.
  13. Use computerized assessments for adults only if the reading material is age-appropriate.
  14. Because most adult learners have limited time to spend on academic tasks, monitor progress frequently to ensure that instructional strategies are effective.
  15. Ensure that standardized tests used with adults were normed on an adult population.  That is, tests used with adults should have been administered to a large sample of adults so that scores can be compared.
  16. Try to avoid using grade equivalent and age equivalent scores because they are prone to misinterpretation.  If possible use standard scores when comparing progress over time or when determining patterns of strength and weakness.
  17. Adult learners may feel particularly conscious of their performance in a group testing situation; take special care to put them at ease and ensure confidentiality of scores.
  18. Consider entering your test data and using the instructional skills profile available at the Adult Reading Components Study (ARCS) website: www.nifl.gov/readingprofiles/

 About the Site and the Reading Profiles

The ARCS was designed to describe readers enrolled in adult education programs.  A total of 955 randomly selected adult learners in 7 states participated in the study.  The group included 676 native English speakers and 279 ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students.

Each participant was given a battery of 11 reading and language assessments to identify their needs in various reading component skills.

Researchers also interviewed the students, to learn about their educational histories and habits.

From this information, cluster levels were created.  For example, many native English speakers with skills below the GED (high school) level have reading skills similar to those of children at risk for reading difficulty.

These clusters were based on individuals’ assessment scores on different components/aspects of reading.  Separate clusters were giving the name “Reading Profile.”  The researchers identified ten Adult Basic Education (ABE) clusters in three groups:

  • GED/preGED (34%)
  • Intermediate (56%)
  • Lower Level/Beginners (11%)

Within each group are distinct clusters that differ from each other based on their strengths in “print-based skills” (word recognition and spelling) and “meaning skills” (vocabulary and comprehension).  

The profiles were established using analyses of the reading skills of this large adult sample.  The Web site includes 11 reading profiles  based on five reading sub-skills of 569 ARCS ABE participants.  The profile concept and the supporting data suggest — and it is hoped — that this will be an extremely useful practitioner resource.

Match a Profile

The main purpose of the reading profile Web site is to enable teachers to understand and use diagnostic reading assessments.  But an interactive feature of the site called “Match a Profile” allows users to enter students’ assessment scores in these five reading skill areas (word recognition, spelling, word meaning, silent reading comprehension, and oral reading rate) and then match each learner’s combination of scores to the “profile” it most closely resembles.

It will then provide information about possible strengths and needs of the adults in that profile group.

The site also includes general instructional suggestions for each of the 11 profiles. 

The site also offers a Mini-Course section which includes free, downloadable tests as well as

  • Reading Components — one-page descriptions of phonemics, word-recognition, spelling, rate and fluency, word meaning (vocabulary), background knowledge, and silent reading comprehension.
  • Assessment Drives Instruction — a comparison of three different reading profiles found in one classroom.
  • Browse All ARCS Comparison Profiles — details on the learners in each profile group.
  • Using a Learner Questionnaire — another free, downloadable resource for collecting information on individual adult readers.
  • Using Assessments — types of assessments, test concepts, and a list of tests that may be used in adult education programs.
  • ARCS (The Adult Reading Components Study) — description of the research study upon which the Web sit is based
  • References
  • Resources — downloadable word lists, assessments and Web addresses for further online study.

Also: A Book 

In addition to the Web site, a resource book for Adult Education practitioners is available: “Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults: First Steps for Teachers” (McShane, 2005.)  Intended as a first resource for adult education instructors who may not have much background in reading instruction, the full text of this book is available online at www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading.  Print copies are free and may be ordered from the National Institute for Literacy at ED Pubs via email (edpubs@inet.ed.gov) or phone (1-800-228-8813).

source: IDA Quarterly “Perspectives”, Fall 2007.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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