Teachers often complain that reading and learning evaluations provide them with little new information. Often, they comment: "I knew this all along. These scores don't help me choose the right materials or design instruction. What a waste of time and energy. Now what do I do?"
If you frequently find yourself in this situation, here's a key to solving the problem. Prevent it—prevent it by asking the right questions.
When you request a reading or learning evaluation to help a struggling reader (like Ryan below), write down the questions you want answered. Give them to the evaluator, discuss them with the evaluator, before the evaluation. Here's a list of possible questions.
Levels of Functioning, Complexity of Materials, Tasks
What are Ryan's instructional, independent, and frustration levels for oral and silent reading?
What are Ryan's instructional, independent, and frustration levels for narrative and expository materials?
What are Ryan's instructional, independent, and frustration levels for listening comprehension?
What length materials can Ryan comfortably read?
How much reading can we expect Ryan to do in different subjects (e.g., how many pages can he comfortably and successfully read each week from his social studies books)?
What degree of complexity is appropriate for Ryan in reading and in subjects in which he is typically asked to read (e. g., social studies)?
On what kind of reading and writing tasks does Ryan typically do (a) well, (b) poorly?
What, if any, are Ryan's major problems with word recognition, word analysis, comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and writing?
What percentage of time should be spent teaching Ryan word recognition, word analysis, comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and writing?
What materials should be used to teach Ryan to read and write?
What realistic, meaningful goals and objectives can address Ryan's educational needs?
What goals and objectives are most important for Ryan to achieve in the next two to three months?
Instructional Strategies and Considerations
What specific reading strategies does Ryan need to learn? How can he best learn them? Are particular instructional strategies (e.g., Fernald's VAKT, Glass Analysis) likely to be more beneficial than others?
How many hours per week should Ryan receive one-to-one reading and writing instruction?
How many hours per week should Ryan receive reading and writing instruction in groups of five or fewer students?
How much guided and independent practice does Ryan need to make progress in reading and writing?
To what degree does Ryan need distributed learning? What schedule would be effective?
How frequently does Ryan need feedback? What should it emphasize?
What modifications in reading materials, textbooks, in-class assignments, homework assignments, and instructional strategies should be used with Ryan in regular classrooms and in extra reading and writing instruction?
What supports does Ryan need to succeed in the regular classroom?
What assistive technology or software can help Ryan? How successful was he when he tried these? In what situations should these be used?
How much homework should Ryan get each day? What type of homework assignments could benefit Ryan? What modifications are needed to ensure success? What cautions should be followed in assigning Ryan homework?
How can Ryan's parents help him at home? What supports do they need to ensure their efforts are successful?
What related or support services does Ryan need (e.g., counseling to help with his homework problems and to boost his self-efficacy)?
What support services do I and Ryan's other teachers need to accelerate his progress (e.g., weekly consultation from a specialist in applied behavior analysis, demonstration lessons by a reading specialist)?
How frequently does Ryan need to be reinforced?
What does Ryan find reinforcing?
What strategies are likely to increase Ryan's self-efficacy and motivation?
What topics, materials, and activities interest Ryan?
What data should be collected and analyzed to monitor and evaluate Ryan's progress?
How often should this data be collected and analyzed and by whom?
What is the most efficient way to institute program modifications?
If Ryan needs extra reading instruction outside of class, how can it be coordinated with his in-class instruction?
Of course, you may not want to ask all these questions. Or you may want to ask others. The important point is that you ask—in writing—practical, functional questions that will help you design a program that works in your class.
Parts of this column are based on the author's article, "What reading program does my child need?" Insights on Learning Disabilities: From Prevailing Theories to Validated Practices, 2006, 3(1), 15-22.
Howard Margolis, Ed.D. is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at Queens College of the City University of New York. He is former editor of the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation and for the last 17 years has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties. He and Dr. Gary G. Brannigan, a Chancellor's Scholar at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh, present a far more detailed discussion of this topic in their forthcoming book, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds.