Using Data To Assess Your Reading Program
reviewed by Susan Pasquarelli - 2005
Title: Using Data To Assess Your Reading Program
Author(s): Emily Calhoun
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871209683, Pages: 230, Year: 2004
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Long recognized as an influential process for curriculum change, action research is a valid, constructive practice for teachers to employ to investigate their own teaching practices through a new lens (Lewin, 1948; Sagor, 2000; Stringer, 1999; Thomas, 2005). In her newest book, Emily Calhoun provides a context for improving a reading program by establishing school-wide action research teams to gather, assess, and analyze the quality of the current program and using the research findings to improve student reading achievement.
The conceptual framework for Calhouns approach to assessing a reading program includes three big ideas that help teachers make sense of the overall assessment process. First, teachers and staff should study student performance and reading curriculum elements simultaneously. Second, current student performance and changes in performance should be measured. Finally, the data generated by this collective inquiry should be used to inform and guide changes in practice (p. 1).
In part I of the book, Calhoun describes the purposes of using action research for assessing a reading program and provides a comprehensive action research matrix for initial collection of data about a program. The matrix, entitled What Do We Know? What Do We Do? is divided into several distinct segments for recording on-site information, such as student performance and current learning environment, as well as external information, such as what current research tells us about best practice. The matrix is simple and unintimidating and appears to include the information that is salient in the initial phase of the action research process. The books opening chapter also offers guidance on how to gather the information required by the matrix and provides a model of its application in a representative school.
Throughout part I, Calhoun suggests that teachers focus their action research lens on one particular area of inquiry and subsequent improvement, such as vocabulary instruction. She recommends that as with all action research, teachers reviewing a reading program engage in a literature review to ground their inquiry in current best practice. Part I includes two additional chapters that lead teacher researchers toward identifying coherence in their own reading curriculum.
One benefit of the initial phase of Calhouns suggested assessment process is that teachers begin their inquiry with investigations of their own curriculum as well as of what the research considers best practice. To help readers conceptualize this phase, Calhoun uses an example of a teacher who has just completed a masters degree and provides her expertise to other teachers during the inquiry into the external knowledge base that is undertaken in the first phase of the assessment process. According to Calhoun, as school staff members record information in the action research matrix she provides, they will be poised to study their own students reading performance with an objective eye.
Part II of the book is devoted to assessing student progress and reading program effects. Calhoun provides clear and elaborate guidelines on how to collect data about (a) school demographics, (b) norm-referenced, criterion-referenced, and school performance measures of student achievement, and (c) reading habits and attitudes. The book includes a CD-ROM with numerous data collection forms that users can adapt to the statistical needs of their own schools. Those using this book for data collection will be assisted through the authors directions and examples from a representative school.
Part III is more complex than the first two parts, in that Calhoun describes how to assess a total reading curriculum. In this section of the book, she presents four areas of the reading curriculum to investigate: emergent literacy, vocabulary, comprehension, and reading habits. Integrated throughout part III are Calhouns suggestions for ideal curriculum components, primary-source citations for advanced study of literacy research and best practice, and national standards to guide readers inquiry into curriculum assessment. Given the complexities of curriculum assessment, the process Calhoun introduces in part III will most likely warrant expert facilitation to produce the desired comprehensive outcomes.
Calhoun concludes with a chapter on how to organize school-wide action research teams and provide professional development to aid the process of curriculum review and change. This final chapter describes how to design an action plan after research findings are articulated and provides an additional short list of literacy source materials as well.
Throughout the book, Calhoun maintains a conversation with readers about one schools success in following her action research process to assess and change its reading program. Perhaps one of the fundamental reasons for the success of her work in this school is the extensive professional development she provides the schools staff and teachers as they assess their reading program. This book is well suited for use in such a context: an ongoing action research professional development event.
Calhoun has grounded her action research process in historic and prevailing research on teacher reflection and standards-based teaching and learning. The plus side of using this book, in conjunction with professional development support, is its suggestion that the real agents for change in regard to a schools reading program are those directly involved in its delivery.
Lewin, K. (1948) Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers on group dynamics. Ed. Gertrude W. Lewin. New York: Harper and Row.
Sagor, R. (2000). Guiding school improvement with action research. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Stringer, E. T. (1999). Action research: A handbook for practitioners. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Thomas, R. M. (2005). Teachers doing research. Boston: Pearson Education.