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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 23

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    EL Education

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back every week for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog.

Question: There’s so much evidence of student progress to collect: What should I focus on? (Part 1: K-2 edition)

There are many sources of evidence you will gather as you teach the curriculum. But the reality is that you probably won’t have time for a careful analysis of all of it. Of course, you can and should focus on the summative assessments in the curriculum as a key source of evidence for further analysis, but beyond that it is up to you (hopefully in collaboration with your administrators, instructional coaches, and teaching teams) which of the ongoing/formative assessments to focus on more closely. Not every note-catcher, for example, will require analysis; however, those that ask students to demonstrate skills they have struggled with in the past, especially if they will be featured on an upcoming summative assessment, may be worth a closer look.

Because the key sources of evidence are a bit different at different grade levels, we have divided the evidence into Grades K–2 and Grades 3–5. This week we’ll cover K-2 and next week we’ll cover 3-5. Before we get started, as a reminder, if you’re looking for a general overview of how all of the parts of the K-2 curriculum fit together, check out Question 1 of this series. Also, Question 9 and Question 10 are deeper dives into the Reading Foundations Skills Block, which you may find helpful to review since there are so many critical assessments in that part of the curriculum. 

Sources of Evidence in the Grades K–2 Reading Foundations Skills Block 

The Skills Block uses three primary forms of evidence: benchmark assessments, cycle assessments, and daily assessments (snapshots and exit tickets). These assessments are designed to help you first identify what microphase of reading and spelling development a student is in so that you can target instruction, and then to help you monitor students’ progress as they learn new skills through whole and small group instruction.

Benchmark Assessments
This collection of assessments includes Letter Name and Sound Identification, Phonological Awareness, Spelling, Decoding, and Fluency. The beginning-of-year administration helps you determine a student’s microphase so that you can use this information to form differentiated small groups based on similar student strengths and needs. Ongoing administration (middle and end of year) helps you follow student progress through the phases so that you can continue to provide the most targeted instruction.

Cycle Assessments
Administered more frequently than benchmarks (approximately once per cycle starting in kindergarten Module 4 through Grade 1 and two or three times per cycle in Grade 2), cycle assessments are directly tied to what has been taught up to a given point in a module. These materials can also be differentiated based on student need. For example, if a small group of students in Grade 2 is mostly working in the late Partial Alphabetic microphase (below grade level), the cycle assessment materials can be differentiated to include measurement of letter sound recognition and spelling of CVC (consonant/vowel/consonant) words rather than more advanced words.

Daily Assessments
In Grades K–1, daily assessments are called “snapshot assessments,” and in Grade 2 the daily assessment is in the form of an exit ticket. Each allows you to quickly check on mastery of daily learning targets.

This video shows Grade 1 students participating in the end-of-cycle reading and spelling assessment with their teacher in our K-2 Reading Foundations Skills Block. It specifically shows the spelling portion. The teacher administers the assessment with a small group, evaluates their responses, and confers with each student to set an individual goal. End-of-cycle assessments are used throughout K-2, typically weekly.

Sources of Evidence in the K–2 Content-Based Literacy Curriculum

In the Module Lessons, formative assessment opportunities are explicitly identified in the Ongoing Assessment section of each lesson. Within the lesson, this section is adjacent to the Learning Target section so that you can easily see how progress toward learning targets will be assessed throughout the lesson. Though you will not formally assess students in the Labs, you may wish to use the assessment checklists from the Module Lessons, particularly the Speaking and Listening Checklist, to help you observe and keep track of student progress as they work in the Labs.

What follows are examples of summative and formative assessments in the K–2 content-based literacy curriculum (Module Lessons plus K–2 Labs [Labs]). This is not an exhaustive list, but it includes some of the more frequently occurring sources of evidence. 

K–2 Summative Assessments

In Grades K–2, unit assessments occur once per unit. The format of the assessments varies and may include a written response, a completed graphic organizer, or a selected response. These assessments are on-demand, designed to give you an understanding of each student’s knowledge and skills at that point in time. The end of unit assessments are designed so that students experience them as part of a typical lesson, rather than as a “test”; however, they are different from many other classroom experiences in that students must complete the work on their own, without peer collaboration.

One end of unit assessment per module includes an on-demand writing task. Every module has an anchor writing standard—narrative, informative/explanatory, or opinion—and the end of unit writing task will assess this writing standard. As a summative assessment, these writing tasks are independent and on demand, with the exception of certain kindergarten standards, which call for students to write “with support.” Sometimes, but not always, this on-demand writing task serves as a draft for the scaffolded performance task.


K–2 Formative/Ongoing Assessments


The Characteristics of Primary Learners, which emphasize play, stories, and the arts, guided the design of our K–2 curriculum. When students play, sing, draw, and dramatize stories, they are learning. But how can these activities provide evidence of progress toward standards?

One way for teachers to gather evidence is through assessment checklists (see photo). In fact, in the primary grades, assessment checklists are required because some standards are only assessed through teacher observation; therefore, they are both formative and summative. You will use the following checklists throughout each module:

  • Reading Literature Checklist
  • Reading Informational Text Checklist
  • Opinion Writing Checklist
  • Informative Writing Checklist
  • Narrative Writing Checklist
  • Speaking and Listening Checklist
  • Language Checklist

In the primary grades, students’ answers to text-dependent questions are most often assessed using the Reading Literature Checklist or Reading Informational Text Checklist because answers are given orally. In Grades 1 and 2, however, lessons and unit assessments begin to include selected response (multiple choice) or short constructed responses to text-dependent questions. Text-dependent questions will be a part of most lessons when text is read to or with students, most often during close read-alouds.

In the K–2 curriculum, writing routines, such as research notebooks, journals, note-catchers, and graphic organizers, are repeated multiple times throughout a unit. For example, in kindergarten Module 2, students keep a weather journal in which they describe the day’s weather, identify the type of clothing that would be most appropriate to wear, and write and draw about suitable activities based on the day’s weather. Across Grades K–2, students keep research notebooks during Module 3. Each of these routines allows students to capture their thinking, record information, and synthesize their learning. They offer a rich source of evidence about their progress. (Note: At this age level, writing routines may also include sketching.)

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: