HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Are We Ready for a Standardized Measure of Hebrew Reading?

by Scott J. Goldberg and Elana R. Weinberger Issue: Hebrew Education
TOPICS : Hebrew Pedagogy

Schools need to monitor the progress of all students in all areas of learning. Dynamic assessment tools and methods of intervention are considered the best tools to monitor student progress in reading. DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) is an example of a highly reliable and valid dynamic assessment of English literacy. DIBELS assesses students individually in the Five Big Ideas of reading: phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Overestimating our children’s capabilities can perpetuate a world in which we are paralyzed to intervene for our children’s benefit when there truly is an issue.

Minimally, all students are given benchmark measures three times a year to screen students for strengths and weaknesses in each of the five areas—and it only takes about five minutes per student. Students meeting benchmarks get regular research-based instruction; those that show they are at-risk for reading problems get small group instruction in the particular area that they struggle in and research based instruction; those that are far below benchmarks get individualized instruction in addition to research-based instruction. Spanish and French versions of DIBELS have been developed. (Seehttp://dibels.uoregon.edu for more information.)

What is most exciting about these types of dynamic measures is that they do not present the same problem as other standardized tests, namely the stumbling block of teachers foregoing the curriculum to teach to the test. Indeed, because these measures assess the Big Ideas of reading, the teaching of these authentic reading skills only improves reading itself. That is, even if teachers are “teaching to the test,” if you will, teachers are actually providing students with the building blocks of successful reading.

While these types of measures are commonplace in the English literacy classroom, prior to the development of the MaDYK (Mivchan Dinami shel Yecholot Kriyah), no equivalent dynamic Hebrew reading assessment tool was available. Although there are some Hebrew reading assessments already in use for students learning Hebrew as a second language, they have not been scrutinized scientifically to obtain evidence for reliability and validity, or standardized with published norms. The existing tools are costly, inefficient to administer, and are criterion-referenced rather than assessments that monitor reading dynamically and developmentally over time.

With MaDYK, schools are now equipped with a tool to identify students in need of support early on in an effort to promote Hebrew reading fluency for all students by third grade. This is a critical age, as the developmental outcomes not only academically but also socially, emotionally, and behaviorally are significantly better for those who have achieved reading fluency compared to those who have not. Our research suggests that Hebrew literacy may be a particularly powerful indicator of future academic, social, and behavioral success for students in Jewish schools. To ensure that our students meet this critical threshold, early and ongoing assessment and intervention is crucial.

Until now, school leaders, teachers, and parents have benefited from such assessment and intervention for English reading. Interventions have been powered by results of regular and ongoing assessments comparing individual students, classes, grades, and entire schools to a norm. In general, Jewish schools find themselves “above average” in comparison to relative samples from the general population, as is the case with most private schools.

What happens, though, when you are only dealing with a population of Jewish schools as your sample? As you would expect, the news that your school is average in Hebrew reading or below average could be startling and raise questions about the measure itself. The same is true for a child who has been excelling in school only to find out that the entire school has been underperforming the national sample. The child might find it odd to receive support, but his or her entire class, grade, or school might need it. Of course, MaDYK, or any assessment like it, does not preclude the ongoing reading assessment information obtained by teachers throughout the course of instruction, but provides a reliable and valid tool for the purposes of comparison and prediction. That said, are we as a community prepared for the statistical reality of a norm-referenced assessment?

As with Garrison Keillor’s fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where “all of the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” we find comfort in assuming that our children are above average. This “Lake Wobegon effect,” overestimating our children’s capabilities, though, can perpetuate a world in which we are paralyzed to intervene for our children’s benefit when there truly is an issue. Until now, the lack of tools to measure Hebrew reading progress has allowed us to live comfortably unaware of the realities of student development. As the field of Jewish education emerges in the twenty-first century, we have little doubt that moving from Lake Wobegon will be a good thing. Are we packed and ready for this reality?

For information about MaDYK and how your school can take advantage of this new assessment tool, please email madyk@yu.edu. ♦

Scott J. Goldberg PhD is Director of the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University. He can be reached at sjgoldbe@yu.edu.

Elana Weinberger PhD is Research Fellow at the Institute for University-School Partnership of the Azrieli Graduate School at Yeshiva University. She can be reached at eweinbe1@yu.edu.

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