A couple years ago, Allen Park School District elementary schools transitioned from using the DRA2 as one way to assess children’s reading levels to using Fountas & Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System (BAS). The BAS is used to determine independent and instructional reading levels and growth in reading over time. The BAS, like the DRA will be used to check reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension. By knowing what a reader is able to do and what a reader needs to learn, a teacher can select target reading goals for their students and assist them in developing further as readers, no matter what level they are at.
If you were familiar with DRA, you know the testing books were leveled according to difficulty as well as other specific features. The levels were assigned numbers and as text became more difficult, the level of the book increased. The Fountas & Pinnell System uses letters from A-Z instead of numbers. A book leveled a G would be easier than a book leveled an J, for example. Every grade has a range of levels that a reader is expected to progress through during the year. Level A would be the beginning of kindergarten and Level Z would be middle school text.
The BAS is given one to one and involves a teacher listening to a student read and then having a discussion about the book. Teachers will use the information to challenge students who need to be stretched and to provide intervention to those who are struggling.
Children should not be restricted to only reading books in their identified level, as there are many different purposes for reading. An adult may like to read the comics, the paper or a magazine for easy, pleasurable reading. Other times an adult may need to read something more complex for work, for doing taxes or when studying for a class. Likewise, children may choose a book that interests them to read for enjoyment that is not at their level. It may be easy and read for pleasure or more difficult and read with a parent or sibling because of interest. The purpose of using reading books at their level is when giving them independent or instructional reading material that they can read without being frustrated, but with just enough work to challenge them.
Below is information provided by a Fountas & Pinnell consultant to explain the reasons to use the Benchmark Assessment System:
Using the comprehensive Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Systems to determine students’ independent and instructional reading levels according to the F&P Text Level Gradient™, teachers are able to:
• Observe and quantify student reading behaviors
• Engage students in comprehension conversations that go beyond retelling
• Make informed decisions that connect assessment to responsive teaching.
• Each assessment enables teachers to:
◦ Determine students’ instructional and independent reading levels
◦ Recommend a placement level for instruction
◦ Form initial groups for reading instruction
◦ Plan for efficient and effective instruction
◦ Identify students who need intervention and extra help
◦ Monitor and report student progress across a school year and grade levels
◦ Assess the outcomes of teaching
◦ Inform parent conferences.
When changing assessments and using a different lens to view the strategic actions of the reader, we may find that an alternative text level would be a better place to begin instruction in order to accelerate the learning process.