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Preventing Reading Failure and Interpreting Assessment Data: What Every Principal Needs to Know

MTSS Leadership Consultant
Updated on October 24, 2023

As a school principal, do you know exactly how many and which students at each grade level are reading accurately, fluently, and with comprehension? If not, why not? Ensuring students read with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension is the most fundamental responsibility we have as school principals. This is where utilizing the correct assessments can be your best ally in helping to mitigate and prevent reading failure at your school.

The National Reading Panel Report, 2000, identified five key concepts or basic early literacy skills for reading proficiency: Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Assessing student performance on the basic early literacy skills, which are also known as core components or foundational skills, can help distinguish children who are on track to become successful readers from children who are likely to struggle. Evidence shows these skills are the basic building blocks every child must master to become a proficient reader (Adams, 1990; National Reading Panel, 2000; National Research Council, 1998). Evidence also shows these skills can be improved with instruction (Kame’enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002; Simmons & Kame’enui, 1998; Torgesen, et al., 1999).

There are far too many “reading” assessments we deal with as principals on a yearly basis. So, which assessments are the most valid, reliable, and efficient in assessing these five areas of reading proficiency? How do we know if a student is on track or needs more support becoming a proficient reader? The answer may surprise you. You only need the following four assessments:

  • Universal Screener: This assessment is given to all students K–6 and reveals which students are at risk of reading failure and which skills need improvement schoolwide. A Universal Screener (such as Acadience® Reading K–6), consists of six brief standardized measures that function as indicators of the essential skills every child must learn to mastery to become a proficient reader. This allows us to see right away which students and systems are at risk. The universal screener is given at the beginning, middle, and end of the year.

  • Diagnostic Assessment (Screener): This assessment shows us where readers are struggling with their phonics and decoding skills. It is given to students at risk and pinpoints the lowest skill deficit and what should be taught next to become an accurate and fluent reader who reads with understanding. This assessment is key in problem solving for differentiated instruction or intervention.

  • Progress Monitoring: This assessment is very brief (one-three minutes) given to at-risk students biweekly or weekly. This data tells us if our instruction is working or not and allows for quick adjustments based on response to instruction.

  • Outcome Evaluation: This end-of-the-year state assessment is the ultimate in revealing if we have truly fixed the reading problem. It shows if we have done our jobs utilizing our assessment data to drive and adjust instruction in Tier I (core), Tier II (intervention), and Tier III (intensive support). When our students can read accurately, fluently, and with comprehension it frees up the brain space to become a skilled reader who is increasingly strategic with vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, background knowledge, and literacy knowledge.

The principal is the lynchpin when it comes to improving reading outcomes and preventing reading failure for all learners at their school. Effectively utilizing reading assessment data equips the principal to pave the way, remove barriers, and drive instruction to create accurate, fluent, readers who read with understanding.

Reading proficiency is one of the greatest equity issues of our time. It is up to us to prevent reading failure. With the right assessments, we are well on our way in accomplishing this.

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About the Author
Sharon Dunn M.Ed.
Sharon Dunn M.Ed.
MTSS Leadership Consultant
Sharon Dunn is a former principal of a high-poverty elementary school. During her tenure as principal, her instructional expertise substantially improved reading outcomes, evidenced by improved ELA CAASPP results. Her leadership expertise and school data were highlighted in the DIBELS® (Acadience) Newsletter nationwide and the 95 Percent Group Overview Guide. She presented her school’s literacy improvement at the California Department of Education Title 1 Conference, the Association of California School Administrators Mid-State Conference, and the National ESEA Conference—2021 and 2022. Most recently, she and Dr. Stollar co-presented on MTSS at The Reading League Conference, NY. She is co-creator of the Facebook social learning group: Science of Reading for Administrators—What Teachers Want You to Know! She supports schools and districts with educational leadership for improved reading outcomes as a MTSS leadership consultant.
Learn more about Sharon Dunn M.Ed.