In a recent discussion with my colleagues about evaluating reading interventions on the field, I was asked to share my thoughts about the various ways in which reading evaluations are done across the country.
The first step towards building an understanding about evaluation is to really understand different definitions of reading. Letter and word recognition, Reading comprehension & Fluency are some of the most commonly used words/phrases to define reading.
But, why is it so important to talk about the definitions? The answer lies in the fact that it reduces ambiguity and provides an important perspective for evaluating approaches. Most of the reading assessment tools include most of these parameters in the form of different exercises.
In some of the reading evaluations, children are called to read letters, sentences and paragraphs aloud. While observing a recent reading assessment of one child (Kapil), I saw that he simply refused to read aloud any text. Discussions with his teacher revealed that he could not read and has been a poor performer in the class, however, on being given an opportunity, Kapil silently read the entire paragraph and could correctly explain the meaning of the same. There have been other incidents also where children have scored well by reading aloud, but lacked in understanding meaning of the same.
Some of the questions in these evaluations test the reading comprehension levels of children, where they are given a paragraph followed by a certain set of questions based on it. To quote an example, I noticed a young girl of grade 3 (Harsha) who was trying very hard to find out the identical letters in the given paragraph so that she can copy those lines as an answer to the question. All her questions’ answers were almost right as she could read the letters and copied them very well.
She performed well, but, is that what we are measuring- ability to correctly copy lines as opposed to understanding what is written?
The role of the facilitator (who facilitates the test) is very crucial at the time of evaluation of the children. The facilitator guides the students with instruction to complete the test. According to the rule of the test the only guidance a child can get is the instruction by the facilitator. For one of the evaluations, where the objective was to ask the students to fill up blanks with the help of the picture given next to the question, the instruction provided was to identify the picture and write in the blank space of the exercise. Majority of students couldn’t correctly answer these questions, as the instructions were not proper and explicit.
In a diverse country like India when any program starts, organizations take culture, socio economic background and role of the stakeholders into consideration whereas while evaluating, the main focus is always on the tool and its training. Taking the previous example, the students wrongly identified the picture of a waterfall as a road, because these children belong to a water scarce area. These are just a few examples, but there are many like these, which bring to attention some very paramount questions-
- Is this the only approach we can use?
- Is it the most appropriate way to assess the students’ skills?
I don’t have concrete answers to these questions, but hopefully my field experiences will guide me in getting a clearer understanding of what really constitutes a reading evaluation.
This blog post is written by Divya Sharma, M&E officer @ READ Alliance.