Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Broaden Your Testing, Teaching, Thinking with the DRA 2

I tend to be the type of person who likes to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, so I was thrilled when I was asked to attend the DRA 2 training for my school. Each Duval County elementary school was asked to select one representative to attend a special series of trainings conducted by Pearson, the publisher and distributor of the Developmental Reading Assessment. These lucky teachers were fortunate to be trained by experts who, in addition to years of practical experience with the popular reading assessment and extensive practice with the new version through field testing work, still today work under the immediate supervision of Joetta Beaver, the writer and creator of the test. The only thing better would be training from Ms. Beaver herself!

I left my workshop chomping at the bit! I cannot wait to get my hands on the first kits when they arrive this summer! In my experience with the classic version of the assessment, I, like many of you, have been frustrated by the amount of time the test takes to administer. I, also, have at times been concerned with the reliability of the assessment, especially after conversing with teachers and learning that there are, apparently, a wide range of delivery practices. It has concerned me, at times, that, in the classic version, children are tested so infrequently on nonfiction texts that, at times, the yielded results are not reliable across genres. I've found that the finer points of scoring running records and analyzing errors are often misunderstood, leading to inaccurate error tallies and, therefore, reading levels. I've also witnessed, and been guilty of, over testing students -- testing the next level up in an effort to push students up for more of a challenge.

In short, this training opportunity was incredibly clarifying and educational. I've found that many of the "problems" we've encountered with the DRA have been fixed in the new version of the test, or corrected through thorough, reliable training. For example, one of the most common complaints (especially in the intermediate grades) with the DRA is the enormous amount of time it requires to test every child on an assessment that requires extensive one-on-one conferencing time. Consequently, many teachers have tried to reduce the duration of the assessment by shortening the test passage (number of words in running record), removing important elements (such as the element of student selection of text, reading engagement, or reading habits interview), or both. What I learned, rather, is that with proper preparation (including previous reading conferencing to get to know your readers and build rapport and preparing the students for the assessment), implementation, and training teachers to understand the philosophy behind the assessment, this manageable slice of time can be the most valuable time we spend with our children all year long. This is an amazing and powerful tool that will help us tremendously towards diagnosing students' needs and planning for instruction.

As a part of our new reading adoption, each classroom will receive a new DRA 2 kit. Yes. Each classroom. Additionally, the district recognizes that there is a need for continued training and professional development in the implementation of this assessment to dispel related myths and poor practices. Therefore, they are rolling out a plan for professional development that will span the next two years. Last week's workshop was just the first step in the process. Over the course of the coming years, we will be working closely with district and Pearson personnel to answer questions, resolve issues, and perfect our practices, both within our classroom and between schools in the county.

Here are just a few notes from this first "snippet" of training.

  • The DRA 2 introduces written summaries (scaffolded) as part of the comprehension check beginning in late 2nd grade levels.
  • Kits will contain multiple copies of texts, in addition to more titles per level, to improve efficiency of testing.
  • There are more nonfiction texts in the new version. Beginning in the intermediate range, students should not proceed into the next grade level without first being tested on a fiction and nonfiction text.
  • Higher levels include a written reading engagement survey that can be delivered in a whole group format.
  • Rubrics for all elements of the test have been refined and made more objective.
  • There is an additional word analysis piece to the assessment that is reserved for a specific set of "struggling" readers.
  • The "Bridge Pack" is included in the intermediate kit now.
  • An online management software option is available. (The county will be piloting this with one school from each cluster.)
  • Blackline master books come with each kit. However, each kit also includes a CD with printable forms.
  • Texts have been improved to include a "magic asterisk" to cue students stopping/starting points. (NO MORE WRITING IN THE BOOKS!)
  • Many of the titles are the same, but the text may have been slightly altered.
  • The intermediate kit has a simplified scoring system (which means less levels of text required and less time spent testing students).
  • Each kit comes with a handy-dandy clipboard, with built-in calculator and timer!
There is MUCH MORE to come. Keep an eye on this site and your ear to the ground for details regarding trainings at your school in the 2008-2009 school year. You won't want to miss them!