Reading Assessment: Elevating the Role of the Evidence-based Response

The evolution of Maine’s state level reading assessment has led to some key design changes to measure reading standards.  These changes are informed by research and fueled by a commitment to the best interest of students. Understanding the evolution of reading assessment and what that means for classroom practice is key to helping students grow and prepare for what comes after high school: work, school, and life.

One significant change in Maine reading assessment is the evidence-based response. Questions have always been text-based, meaning that students need to demonstrate an ability to make meaning of the text they read independently. and then answer questions that require little or no outside knowledge to respond correctly. New to the reading assessment design is the evidence-based selected response item.  Maine’s reading assessment for grades 3-8, eMPower, includes two-part questions that ask first for students to identify a correct answer demonstrating comprehension, then to respond to a question asking them to identify the best evidence to support the correct answer. This item construct is also evident on the updated SAT (since spring 2016) with sequential items that also ask for the best evidence to support the previous item.

Another change to the reading assessment format is the use of paired passages and questions, utilizing both selected and constructed response constructs, that require students to synthesize and analyze elements across passages.

Close reading habits that encourage careful analysis, especially of the author’s craft and rhetoric, will help students identify the best evidence to demonstrate understanding. Developing consistent strategies for engaging with sufficiently complex texts is essential. Whether its annotation, think-aloud modeling, or directed discussion, close reading habits will help students grow as readers. Further, designing instructional experiences in which students are reading multiple texts connected to the same topic and then engaging in comparison of various aspects of the texts affords students with the opportunity to sharpen their analytic skills while also building knowledge and vocabulary.  Employing text sets developed around essential questions and content related topics is a supportive instructional practice for addressing the standards that expect students to read, synthesize and analyze information across multiple texts.

Here are some items from state level reading assessment that exemplify these key changes:

Grade 11: SAT

On the April 2017 school day test, students were asked to read a pair of passages adapted from speeches delivered by Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton following the Constitutional Convention. The first question asks students to demonstrate comprehension of one of the passages: Based on Passage 2, which statement best reflects Pendleton’s view of the Articles of Confederation? Only 21% of Maine 11th graders were able to select the correct response: They had little to do with America’s having prevailed in its most recent conflict. Nearly as many students (20%) thought they were a great concern while more students chose two other incorrect responses (28% for each of the other responses).

The next question asks which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question? Students are then directed to specific lines in the passage and must determine which provides the best evidence to support their response. Each of the selected examples may have a degree of relationship to the previous response, but one is better, a stronger example, then the others. This item construct is new to SAT and not immediately obvious from score data, but can be easily identified when examining the released test.

Grade 6: eMPower

In this example, two texts are paired, a fictional narrative and a poem, about creating music and visual art. The first question asks: Which of the following best states the central idea of Passage 2?  Each response is somewhat true, but one is much better than the others. Response B, Students can get satisfaction from making art, requires inference across the text.

The second part of this questions asks; Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question? The correct response is “That paint does flow like a wider river/ . . . but in time, we can tame it.” Students must carefully assess the relationship between each of the selected segments and the central idea of the passage.

Grade 4: eMPower

A sample constructed item for this grade expects students to read two passages about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journey with her husband and daughter to the Ozarks and then analyze the passages to determine differences in the information contained in them.

Both passages describe the Wilders’ journey to the Ozarks.  Compare how this information is different in each passage.  Use details from both passages in your answer.

Grade 3: eMPower

In this sample item, students are asked to read an informational passage, Dragonflies: Interesting Insects, and then respond to the following two-part evidence-based selected response item:

  1. What is the main idea of the passage?
  2. Which detail from the passage best supports the answer above?

This item not only expects students to determine the passage’s main idea, but then students need to support this conclusion with the most supportive evidence from the passage.

Supporting Close Reading

Two part or related questions are not necessarily new to classroom practice, but are a recent update to Maine assessment. Look for sample items to see more examples and check out the resources provided on the Maine DOE ELA resources page.

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