Reading development throughout middle and high school is an elusive and often unmonitored skill. During this period, literacy demands increase exponentially, with a huge rise in content-area reading, text difficulty, and comprehension tactics necessary for academic success. According to the 2011 NAEP, nearly 70% of all students entering ninth grade were reading below grade level. For millions of students, reading proficiency is unattainable unless difficulties have been pinpointed. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, prominent K–12 literacy leaders, believe that evaluating reading development should be both a necessary strategy for compliance with the Common Core State Standards and a key component to a systematic approach to literacy instruction.
Today, there is very little formal reading assessment in middle school. Often students’ development is hindered without diagnostic assessment and targeted instruction. In response, Fountas and Pinnell have created the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System 2, Grades 3–8, which is the most accurate way fully to assess reading skills and has been researched and field-tested to meet the unique needs of older students. Educators often don’t know where the reading breakdown occurs, and collecting diagnostic evidence to measure skill mastery is more complex. Teachers must gauge such literacy competencies as how students:
- infer meaning
- synthesize information and respond to the author’s craft
- understand complex plots
- use background information to interpret text
- respond to text in writing.
By observing, recording, and analyzing these reading processes, educators can identify weaknesses, tailor instruction, and fully support students as they move to more complex content-area reading. Assessment is a critical factor for reaching low-achieving readers whose literacy development has gone unchecked and been undersupported. Only with accurate data can teachers accelerate the process at any stage of reading behavior.
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