By Laura Ascenzi-Moreno
I start this blog post with a picture of a running record kit in Spanish, commonly used in New York City, where I was a teacher and now work as a teacher educator. This picture is significant because, for me, it symbolizes the complicated relationship between teachers and classroom assessments. As a dual language bilingual teacher, I was asked to conduct running record assessments - a measure used to assess students’ reading abilities - in English and Spanish three times a year and afterward to hand in students’ independent reading levels to the administration. Conducting these assessments took a lot of instructional time, and while assessing student reading is critical, kits like these only came out at particular, prescribed times or otherwise were stored in closets, under tables - far from the action of classroom life. While so much effort is put into assessing all students, there simply was not enough time to examine the data to understand readers beyond their reading level and, in particular, to truly examine children as multilingual readers.
My work as a teacher was shaped by assessment policies and practices. My experience as a teacher made an imprint on my work as a bilingual education researcher and teacher educator in ensuring that classroom reading assessment practices shift in favor of recognizing children’s multilingual and semiotic practices so that these assessments can capture the fullness of emergent bilinguals’ reading abilities.
Assessments shape teachers’ work and how we view emergent bilinguals - or students who use two or more languages in their daily lives. Critical reflection about how the assessment process affects emergent bilinguals, how teachers are part of the process, and how emergent bilinguals are positioned as readers as a result of assessment are all important components of moving towards equity-based vision for classroom assessment. In this blog post, I consider the potential of formative reading assessments, along with challenges, and offer up ways to adapt assessment tools and change educators’ thinking about the purpose of formative reading assessment so that these adaptations are not only accepted but deemed necessary, to adequately support emergent bilinguals as readers.
What are Formative Reading Assessments, and How do they Support Learning about Emergent Bilinguals?
Formative reading assessments, like running records, have enormous potential for assessing emergent bilinguals because they are based on authentic reading tasks (for more on running records and other formative reading assessments, see Ascenzi-Moreno, 2016). However, how formative assessments have been used has mitigated their potential. Instead of being a process that provides teachers with an opportunity to deeply learn about their students as readers, formative assessment practices have become “routinized.” In other words, teachers’ compliance with assessment procedures has been prioritized over understanding how students are developing as readers (Ascenzi-Moreno, 2016). In addition, emergent bilinguals have been impacted by the monolingual nature of the formative reading assessment process. As Shohamy (2011) argues, formative assessments are used to evaluate monolingual students along with monoglossic standards, which ignore how their multilingualism factors into their learning. Although emergent bilinguals possess a unified, multilingual body of knowledge that informs their reading (Ascenzi-Moreno, 2018; Kabuto, 2017), they are assessed through instruments designed to evaluate reading monolingually. This assessment structure places emergent bilingual students at a disadvantage as their reading abilities across languages are not assessed (Ascenzi-Moreno, 2016).
While formative assessments often are thought of as static assessment instruments, not to be tweaked, the National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) position statement on Expanding Formative Assessment for Equity and Agency (2020) advocates otherwise. The position statement argues that formative literacy assessments should be considered a process that embraces “several kinds of diversity, including diversity in languages, in learning styles, and in rates and routes of learning.” Therefore, it is critical that teachers, administrators, and other educators carefully consider how formative reading assessment can be adapted to ensure that they capture how students’ language resources are called upon while reading.
This work is necessary as the most currently used assessments do not accurately assess the full span of emergent bilinguals’ capabilities. Schissel (2020) explains, “… approaches to testing that incorporate this [deficit-based, monolingual] perspective are set up to be inadequate in creating more equitable testing approaches because they continue to operate within monolingual ideological frameworks that are incongruent with the semiotic and linguistic practices of language-minoritized bilinguals (p. 93).”
What are Responsive Adaptations?
One way to confront these issues is by understanding how the reading assessment process can be tweaked by educators when they take into consideration students’ multilingualism. Many teachers equate reading ability with language proficiency - however, reading is much more than just being able to speak about the book in the language it is written in. Much is lost when the view reading is solely defined by language proficiency. Reading is a complex process that involves not only skills such as decoding and fluency but also includes “language, social participation, cultural membership and identity negotiation” (Compton-Lily, Mitra, Guay, & Spence, 2020).
As described elsewhere, formative reading assessments can be adapted at all stages to account for emergent bilinguals’ language practices (Ascenzi-Moreno, 2018; Espinosa & Ascenzi-Moreno, 2021). I coin these practices as ‘responsive adaptations,’ which are ways that teachers can ensure that instead of testing students’ language proficiency during reading, teachers assess students’ reading abilities through a holistic lens on their language practices.
For example, when introducing a text that students will read, teachers can preview the types of words they will encounter. This may be particularly helpful for any terms that may be unfamiliar to them, not only because they are new vocabulary words but also because the concepts may be outside of their experience. Another powerful way that teachers can adapt reading assessments through responsive adaptations is during the analysis of students’ miscues - or deviations in how the student reads words from the text itself. Once teachers have documented students’ miscues, teachers can take a curious stance towards students’ miscues to understand how students’ various language practices may influence their reading. For example, students may pronounce a word such as “when” when the text says “went,” fully cognizant of what the word “went” means and intending to say this word. Teachers can go back to the miscues and ask students questions such as, “what is this word? What does it mean to you?” This interaction can be conducted in English or the language that the child speaks. The last example is that teachers can ask students to respond in either English or another language or even a combination of languages to respond to comprehension questions about the text. This allows students to engage in expressing their comprehension by drawing upon all of their language resources (detailed examples of all of these adaptations can be found in Ascenzi-Moreno, 2018).
Furthermore, there is much promising workaround how to address emergent bilinguals in the reading process. Briceño & Klein (2018) advocate that teachers can analyze students’ miscues to determine if these are “language-related.” Bauer et al. (2018) document that young emergent bilinguals trans language as they narrate (using both linguistic and semiotic features). Lastly, Kabuto (2017, p. 40) explains that “developing culturally relevant assessments that do not favor monolingual English reading competence over other reading competencies for bilingual readers, and that reflect contemporary views of language that position it as a dynamic and fluid meaning system” must be a priority for educators.
Is Tweaking Assessments Enough?
While responsive adaptations have been generally accepted as a positive development and one that will level the playing field for emergent bilinguals, some educators are wary of tweaking assessments in favor of multilingualism. In fact, some educators may think that because reading assessments are adapted, they are invalid or give an unfair advantage to emergent bilinguals. However, as Mahoney (2017) asserts, educators that a “unified view of validity” is essential to take into account for emergent bilinguals because “the actions we take based on test scores and test interpretation are critical in making the appropriate educational decisions” (p. 45).
In a forthcoming paper by Ascenzi-Moreno & Seltzer, the authors state that because “formative reading assessments exist both as practical tools used in the classroom and as instruments through which deficit ideologies circulate … equity in assessment cannot solely be achieved by tweaking assessment tools, but also by interrogating the ideologies that shape and are shaped by them.” We argue that a critical component of forging a vision for equitable assessment practices that align with policy and practices must be that educators question how assessments are “informed by and maintain ideologies about race and language that shape racialized emergent bilinguals’ educational experiences more broadly” (Ascenzi-Moreno & Seltzer, forthcoming). In turn, educators must ask how readers - particularly racialized emergent bilinguals - are conceived as readers in general and as a result of assessment practices.
There is much promise in the area of both adapting and rethinking the role of formative reading assessments in favor of multilingualism. For this to be done, teachers and administrators must do work in two areas: 1) examining the ideologies that they have about assessment and questioning how they position emergent bilinguals; 2) tweaking actual assessment practices so that they recognize and welcome the diverse practices that students bring to the reading performance. These are the first steps - that can be done collaboratively - to strive towards more equitable assessment experiences for emergent bilinguals and, ultimately, to support the holistic multilingualism of emergent bilingual readers.
Ascenzi-Moreno, L. (2016). An exploration of elementary teachers' views of informal reading inventories in dual language bilingual programs. Literacy Research and Instruction, 55(4), 285-308. https://doi.org/10.1080/19388071.2016.1165318
Ascenzi-Moreno, L. (2018). Translanguaging and responsive assessment adaptations: Emergent bilingual readers through the lens of possibility. Language Arts, 95(6), 355-369.
Ascenzi-Moreno, L. & Seltzer, K. (forthcoming). Always at the bottom: Ideologies in assessment of emergent bilinguals. Journal of Literacy Research.
Bauer, E. B., Colomer, S. E., & Wiemelt, J. (2020). Biliteracy of African American and Latinx
kindergarten students in a dual-language program: Understanding students’
translanguaging practices across informal assessments. Urban Education, 55(3), 331-361.
Briceño, A., & Klein, A. (2018). A second lens of formative reading assessment with
multilingual students. The Reading Teacher, 72(5), 611-621.
Compton-Lilly C., Mitra, A., Guay, M., & Spence, L. (2020). A confluence of complexity:
Intersections among reading theory, neuroscience, and observations of young readers.
Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S185-S195. doi: 10.1002/rrq.348
Espinosa, C.M. & Ascenzi-Moreno. (2021). Rooted in Strength: Using Translanguaging to Grow Multilingual Readers and Writers. New York, Scholastic.
Kabuto, B. (2017). A socio-psycholinguistic perspective on biliteracy: The use of miscue analysis as a culturally relevant assessment tool. Reading Horizons, 56(1), 25-43.
Mahoney, K. (2017). The assessment of emergent bilinguals: Supporting English language learners. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Schissel, J.L. (2020). Moving beyond deficit positioning of linguistically diverse test takers: Bi/multilingualism and the essence of validity. In S. Mirhosseini and P.I. De Costa (Eds). Sociopolitics of English Language Testing (pp. 91-108). Bloomsbury Publishing.
Laura Ascenzi-Moreno, Ph.D., is an associate professor and bilingual program coordinator at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Her research is focused on investigating how to shift and reimagine monolingual literacy instruction by centering them on children’s multilingual and multimodal practices.