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Context and its Use in Interpreting Assessment Data

Updated on
Modified on June 5, 2023
  • Assessment
  • General Education
  • Literacy
  • Struggling Readers

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part blog discussing context and its use in interpreting assessment data. The first part of this blog was published here on Oct. 19.

In last week's blog, I wrote about the importance of context in situations from reading to deciphering vocabulary words to interpreting assessment data.

Although context has many applications for helping to understand unclear situations, it also can be an important guide for educators seeking to compare and evaluate student progress.

Returning to last week’s example where I was interpreting a set of scores for a seventh grade student, we established a common measure: a percentile rank. This can be used to look at the test results of our seventh grade student. In our case, it is important to keep in mind that the percentile ranks are based on norms that are grade level for the PAR, but based on age for the TOSCRF and TWS-4. While most of the time students in the seventh grade will be between 12 and 13 years old, that is not always the case for various reasons. This wouldn’t stop me from using the percentile ranks as a common measure, but I do keep this difference in mind.

The table below shows the scores for our seventh grade student. The first column shows the test name. The next three columns show the raw score, Lexile or standard score, and percentile rank for the beginning of the academic school year (BOY). Columns five to seven show the same data points, but for the end of the year (EOY). The last column shows the gain that occurred from the beginning to the end of the school year.

Looking at the test scores, this is a student who needs help with improving reading skills. The thing that stands out to me with this student is the difference between the TOSCRF and the other two tests. The PAR and TWS-4 are at about the same percentile, not as high a percentile as we would like, but about the same. The TOSCRF, on the other hand, is quite low in comparison, indicating this is a student that has some reading skills, but certainly is not reading fast enough or with sufficient automaticity to keep up in a grade-level class.

At the end of the year, the PAR and the TWS-4 show the student at or above the 25th percentile, the boundary of the average range, but still at the lower end of the range. There was good progress on the TOSCRF indicating the fluency and automaticity of this student has improved, but there is room for more improvement. As with so many struggling readers, the way to improve reading skills is to read more, but often reading isn’t the first thing a struggling reader thinks of doing on a regular basis. If I were asked for a recommendation, I would suggest this student continue with the reading intervention into the next year, allowing the student to get the instruction and practice needed to continue improving.

Understanding the context of the tests helps us understand what the results are telling us. Understanding how to interpret the scores from those tests allows us to compare results and determine where focus might be needed. Context is necessary and important, even in benchmark assessments.



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