How Should Spelling Be Assessed?

February 25, 2010 at 10:31 pm Leave a comment

When testing students’ spelling, it’s important to go beyond simply marking words right or wrong. The assessment should be an opportunity to evaluate students’ understanding of sounds and conventional spelling patterns. The kinds of words that students miss and the types of errors they make are important in evaluating their spelling achievement and their understanding of language structures.24 For example, by carefully reviewing students’ errors, a teacher may see that some students are confusing /b/ and /p/. Figuring out what to do requires some follow-up. Many students confuse /b/ and /p/ because the letters that are used to spell them are visually similar. But some students who consistently confuse /b/ and /p/ may not be aware that even though the positions of the tongue, teeth, and lips are the same when pronouncing /b/ and /p/, one sound is voiced (i.e., /b/ activates the vocal cords) and the other is unvoiced.25 This difficulty can be corrected by having the student place two fingers on his or her vocal cords as the word is pronounced in order to feel whether or not the vocal cords are activated.

To deliver more targeted instruction, researchers devised a seven-point rubric to judge kindergarten students’ spelling.26 A score of 0 designated a random string of letters with no alphabetic representations. Scores of 1 to 5 indicated increasing degrees of accuracy, and 6 represented a correct spelling. The scores of lowincome, inner-city students improved on this measure after 11 weeks of instruction on the sounds that make up English words, even though the trained students did not spell all of the post-test words correctly. However, their post-test spellings demonstrated improvement in segmenting sounds and sound-letter knowledge. Although the assessment of spelling using a validated rubric takes more time than marking words right or wrong, it provides a more complete picture of students’ linguistic knowledge and is helpful in designing appropriate instruction.*

* To learn more about assessing spelling, see: Kathy Ganske, Word Journeys: Assessment-Guided Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Instruction (New York: Guilford Press, 2000); and Donald R. Bear, Marcia Invernizzi, Shane R. Templeton, and Francine Johnston, Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003).

Endnotes:
24. R. Malatesha Joshi, “Assessing Reading and Spelling Skills,” School Psychology Review 24 (1995): 361–75.

25. Louisa C. Moats, Spellography for Teachers: How English Spelling Works; Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), Module 3 (Longmont, CO: Sopris West, 2005); and Moats, “How Spelling Supports Reading.”

26. Darlene M. Tangel and Benita A. Blachman, “Effect of Phoneme Awareness Instruction on Kindergarten Children’s Invented Spelling,” Journal of Reading Behavior 24 (1992): 233–61.

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