In 1989, teachers in South Brunswick, New Jersey, changed the way they taught reading and writing to focus more on comprehension. But the district's tests continued to focus on isolated skills. This split, between what was taught and what was tested, challenged teachers to find an approach that measured reading comprehension but still retained the reliability of traditional, standardized tests.
With help from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the nation's largest test publisher, teachers created the Early Literacy Portfolio (ELP) for kindergarten through second grades. The ELP helps document a child's development of reading comprehension through work samples and teacher observations and interviews.
ETS helped teachers develop a six-point scale to score a child's abilities in reading and writing. Beginning readers can identify letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds; the most advanced can read independently, understanding a variety of material. The scale helps teachers assess literacy among groups of students within a class as well as across the district.
District teachers get together periodically to read, discuss, and score each others' ELPs. The meetings give teachers a common understanding of quality work and ensure a consistent interpretation of the scale. "ETS helped us clarify what we truly want to assess," says Willa Spicer, director of curriculum and instruction.