Skills Spotlight: How Assessments Identify Strengths and Needs

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Why do we need assessments? What Assessments should we use? How often should we assess a student? Let’s answer those questions.

Assessments help know where a student is in the learning process and cater to a student’s needs. They also identify strengths and weaknesses in a student’s skills to tailor instruction effectively.

Assessments are usually conducted one-on-one allowing the tutor or teacher to observe how a student interacts with assessment tasks. This ensures that instruction directly addresses a student’s areas of need.

When working with students, I almost always start from the beginning of my scope and sequence. Many students will not be aware that letters can make more than one sound or be familiar with keywords, so I think it’s important to start there. For older students, this goes quickly.

I’ve started with letter sounds and gotten an, “ah ha” moment and watched a student go much faster learning everything else I taught because I started with letter sounds and keywords. Then introducing syllable types really accelerates learning. In my experience, these are the two concepts that improve spelling and reading the most.

However, assessments are very important to identify strengths and weaknesses, to know where a student is on their learning path, to create individualized lessons, and more.

What Are the Uses of Assessments?

Assessments play a role in serving as a foundational element for creating effective strategies in lessons.

Assessments are useful in many areas:

Identifying Specific Needs. Assessments help pinpoint a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Guiding Instruction. Identifying specific areas of difficulty allows educators to customize teaching strategies.

Monitoring Progress. Regular, ongoing assessments track a student’s progress over time.

Informing Intervention. Through early identification of difficulties, assessments allow for timely intervention. Being proactive is helpful for young students especially, or those at the beginning stages of reading instruction.

Building Confidence. Students often feel more motivated and engaged when they see tangible improvements in their abilities, leading to a more positive attitude.

Evidence-Based Decision Making. Assessments provide concrete data and ensure lessons are based on measurable outcomes.

Collaboration and Communication. Results can be a valuable tool for communicating with parents, caregivers, and educational professionals about a student’s needs and progress.

What Do Assessments Measure?

Phonological Awareness. This includes the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in spoken words, such as rhyming, blending, segmenting, and deleting sounds.

Phonemic Awareness. A subset of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes) and involves tasks like phoneme segmentation and manipulation.

Alphabetic Principle and Phonics. Assessments measure the understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds, including letter-name knowledge, letter-sound associations, and the ability to apply these associations to decode words.

Decoding. This involves the ability to accurately read unfamiliar words by applying knowledge of phonics rules and patterns.

Encoding (Spelling). Encoding assessments measure the ability to spell words based on their sounds and the rules of phonics and orthography.

Fluency. This includes the speed, accuracy, and expression with which a student can read text. Fluency assessments might involve timed readings of grade-level texts.

Vocabulary. The understanding of word meanings, both in isolation and in context, is crucial for reading comprehension and is often assessed through both direct (definition-based) and indirect (contextual) methods.

Reading Comprehension. This measures the ability to understand and interpret reading passages, including answering questions about a passage, summarizing, and making interpretations.

Writing. Some Orton-Gillingham assessments might also evaluate writing skills, including spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and composition, to provide a comprehensive view of a student’s language abilities.

Oral Language Skills. Assessing oral language can include evaluating expressive language (speaking) and receptive language (listening) skills, as these support the development of reading and writing.

How often should a student be assessed?

Striking a balance in the frequency of assessments is key to ensuring they give information without being too time-consuming.

The primary use of assessments is as tools for understanding a student’s needs and for planning teaching strategies. Keeping assessments focused, relevant, and timely helps maintain the momentum of your lessons and ensures that instruction is aligned with growth.

Here’s a general guideline on how often to conduct assessments:

Initial Assessment

Before Instruction Begins. When you begin with a new student, conduct an initial assessment to establish a baseline of the student’s skills. This assessment helps identify specific areas of need and strengths, guiding the initial planning of instruction. It also later identifies improvements or places where the student is not progressing as much as hoped.

Ongoing Monitoring

Formative Assessments. These should be done regularly but informally throughout instruction. This can be as frequent as every lesson for quick checks or every few weeks for more detailed assessments. The goal is to gauge progress on specific skills and adjust instruction as needed.

Progress Monitoring. Depending on the student’s progress, formal progress monitoring assessments might be conducted every 4-6 weeks. These assessments are more structured and are used to track growth over time.

Summative Assessments

End-of-Term/Year Assessments. Using the same assessment as the beginning baseline, compare current performance against the baseline established at the beginning of the instruction or the previous term/year.

Responsive Assessment

As Needed: If you observe a plateau in progress, regression, or sudden difficulties in new areas, conducting an assessment focused on those specific concerns can help in adjusting the instruction or identify areas that require more intensive intervention.

Guidelines for Assessment Frequency

Adapt to Individual Needs. Some students may require more frequent assessments due to their learning style, while others may be fine with less frequent checks.

Balance with Instruction Time. Ensure that assessments do not take away significantly from instructional time. They should be brief and integrated smoothly into the learning process.

Types of Assessments (Informal)

Informal assessments can be done using actual assessments, but they are also often done with worksheets or story passages by having the student do the worksheet or read the passage and assess how the student understood the material. Give the same worksheet or story passage and look for improvements. Packets are a great resource for informal assessments because many contain worksheets specific to a skill and fluency stories. Go HERE for Packets.

Here are some Assessment Ideas:

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Have a list of words and ask the student to break them down into individual phonemes. This test assesses the student’s ability to isolate sounds in words.

Decoding Assessments

Nonsense Word Fluency. Create a list of nonsense words (e.g., “zim,” “larp”) to assess the student’s ability to apply phonics rules without relying on memorized words.

Word Lists. use lists of words that focus on specific phonics patterns and have the student read them aloud (for example, CVC words, consonant blends, vowel digraphs).

Sight Word Recognition

Use lists containing high-frequency sight words. You can create flashcards and assess which words the student recognizes on sight or have the student read from a list.

See the SOS Sight Word Technique Workbook.

Spelling Inventories

You can create a list of words that represent various spelling patterns and ask the student to spell them. Analyze the errors to determine specific areas of need.

Reading Inventories

Select grade-level materials or specially designed reading assessments that include a series of graded passages. After the student reads a passage aloud, ask comprehension questions to assess understanding.

When using informal assessments, the goal is to gather insights into the student’s strengths and areas for growth, rather than to assign grades or scores.

Assessments Links

This section contains links to informal assessments.

Informal Assessments

Formal Assessments

Formal Assessment #1: Gallistel-Ellis assessment. This one I can’t give away, but here is a link if you would like to explore further.

The Gallistel-Ellis Test of Coding Skills (GE Test) is an assessment tool used to evaluate coding skills in reading and spelling. Developed by cognitive psychologists Randy Gallistel and Ann Ellis, this test measures whether a student can give the sounds for various letters and units or clusters.

Key features of the GE Test:

  • Comprehensive Measure: The GE Test covers all categories of phonic structures, including:
  • Closed syllables with single consonants
  • Blends and digraphs
  • Silent-E words
  • Soft C and G
  • Vowel teams and vowel-r
  • Suffixes and modifiers
  • Multi-syllable and irregular words
  • Non-Sense Syllables: Each test segment concludes with non-sense syllables, helping identify whether a student relies on sight memory or has truly “cracked the code.”
  • Easy Administration: In less than 20 minutes, teachers can determine which skills have been mastered and what needs further instruction.
  • Graphing System: A clear and easy-to-use graphing system helps teachers identify student strengths, weaknesses, and progress, which can be effectively communicated to parents.

Formal Assessments Continued

Orton-Gillingham educators use a variety of formal assessments besides the Gallistel-Ellis Test. Note: I have only used the Gallistel-Ellis test.

Here are formal assessments commonly used (other than the Gallistel Ellis):

  • Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement (WJ IV): This comprehensive set of assessments covers a wide range of reading, writing, and mathematical skills. It includes subtests for letter-word identification, reading fluency, passage comprehension, spelling, and writing skills, which are particularly relevant for dyslexic learners.
  • Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP-2): The CTOPP-2 assesses phonological awareness, phonological memory, and rapid naming. These areas are crucial for understanding a student’s reading abilities and potential difficulties with decoding.
  • Gray Oral Reading Tests (GORT-5): The GORT-5 is a widely used tool for measuring oral reading fluency and comprehension. It assesses the rate, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension of oral reading, providing valuable insights into both the mechanical and interpretive aspects of reading.
  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT-III): This test assesses academic achievement in reading, writing, and math. The reading components evaluate decoding, reading comprehension, and reading fluency, making it a useful tool for identifying specific reading issues.
  • Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE-2): The TOWRE-2 is a norm-referenced, standardized test that measures an individual’s ability to pronounce printed words (Sight Word Efficiency) and phonemically decode nonsense words (Phonemic Decoding Efficiency) under timed conditions. It’s particularly useful for assessing reading fluency and decoding skills.

Final Word

Assessments enable educators to make informed decisions, track progress, and adjust teaching strategies, ultimately facilitating a path to learning that helps our students progress and thrive.


Workbook/Worksheets Store –
Drill Card Workbook:
Scope & Sequence Book Bundle (4 Books) –

Packets that make great informal assessments:

Teachers Pay Teachers Store:

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