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Increasing Early Literacy Outcomes Through an Assessment Audit

Founder of Stephanie Stollar Consulting L.L.C.
and creator of The Reading Science Academy
Updated on
Modified on June 22, 2023
  • Acadience
  • Assessment

Assessment is an essential component of an effective school-wide early literacy system. There seems to be a trend in education to add more assessments each year. As district leadership changes, new initiatives are added, and state requirements shift, schools tend to add assessments without taking any away. The result can be a long list of tools that are "required" but no one remembers why. Many districts struggle to find the right combination of answering important questions about student learning, while minimizing time away from instruction.

  • Is your district spending too much time and money on assessments?
  • Are you collecting data that aren't used?
  • Do you struggle to keep up with state and federal testing requirements?

If your district has been adding assessments year after year, but you still cannot quickly answer key questions about reading outcomes, it might be time to conduct an assessment audit.

What is an Assessment Audit?

An assessment audit offers the opportunity to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of your assessment system.

The goals of an assessment audit include:

  • Eliminate redundancy
  • Uncover gaps
  • Increase consistency and communication across buildings and grade levels
  • Create a comprehensive assessment system

What Questions Should Assessments Answer?

An effective school-wide early literacy system will include tools to answer four important questions:

QuestionPurpose of Assessment
Who needs support? Screening
What support is needed? Diagnostic
Is the support working? Progress Monitoring
Has the support increased student outcomes?Outcome Evaluation

Screening: Who Needs Support?

The purpose of screening is early identification and intervention. Universal screening on the essential early literacy skills makes it possible to prevent, minimize, or remediate the majority of reading concerns. Screening assessments should be selected based on accurate prediction of future performance.

Diagnostic: What Support is Needed?

Knowing who is at risk is only the beginning. Diagnostic assessments answer questions about how much support is needed and the next step for instruction. Diagnostic tools can be formal or informal. A subcategory of diagnostic assessments informs entitlement decisions such as special education eligibility. All diagnostic assessments should be closely related to classroom instruction.

Progress Monitoring: Is the Support Working?

Progress monitoring is the use of alternate forms, at the same level of difficulty, to track student growth toward important reading outcomes. Progress monitoring tools must be sensitive to small amounts of growth and change in brief increments, to provide real-time feedback to the instructor about the effectiveness of instruction. Evidence-based practices should be evaluated for each student within a data-based decision-making framework, made possible by the visual display of graphed student progress relative to instruction.

Outcome Evaluation: Has the Support Increased Student Outcomes?

Assessments for outcome evaluation provide ways to look back to see if important outcomes and milestones were met. Proximal outcome measures are close to our teaching and tell us if students learned the skills we taught. Distal outcome measures assess more general outcomes such as grade-level standards. Traditional achievement tests and methods of program evaluation are distal outcome measures that fit this purpose. Assessments for outcome evaluation must be comprehensive yet specific to the goals articulated by the district.

An assessment audit is an opportunity to be sure your district has a technically sound tool to answer each assessment question. Collecting the right data is a first step toward improving literacy outcomes.

An Example: Acadience Reading

An example of a tool that addresses the four purposes of assessment is Acadience® Reading (also published as DIBELS Next®). The Acadience Reading suite of assessments includes screening, progress monitoring, and proximal outcome evaluation with Acadience Reading K–6, and diagnostic assessment with Acadience® Reading Diagnostic.

Purpose of AssessmentAcadience Reading Tool
ScreeningAcadience Reading K–6
DiagnosticAcadience Reading Diagnostic
Progress MonitoringAcadience Reading K–6
Outcome EvaluationAcadience Reading K–6


Voyager Sopris Learning® and Acadience Learning recently announced an expanded partnership to deliver Acadience’s powerful and effective preK–high school assessment tools throughout the United States. To learn more about the partnership, visit: voyagersopris.com/news/2019/09/25/vsl-acadience-learning-expand-partnership.

About the Author
Dr. Stephanie Stollar
Dr. Stephanie Stollar
Founder of Stephanie Stollar Consulting L.L.C.
and creator of The Reading Science Academy
Dr. Stephanie Stollar is the former vice president for professional learning at Acadience® Learning Inc. She is an adjunct professor in the online reading science program at Mount St. Joseph University, and a founding member of a national alliance for supporting reading science in higher education. Dr. Stollar has worked as an educational consultant, a school psychologist, and an assistant professor in the school psychology program at the University of South Florida, and has provided professional development for teachers for the past 25 years. Dr. Stollar is a co-author of Acadience® Reading K–6Acadience® Reading Survey, and Acadience® Reading Diagnostic. She has conducted research in the areas of assessment, early intervention, and collaborative problem solving. As a member of the board for the Innovations in Education Consortium, she collaboratively plans the annual MTSS Innovations in Education Conference. 
Learn more about Dr. Stephanie Stollar