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Should You LoveCATs?

data and assessment Mar 30, 2023

Early literacy screening is one of the most important educational technologies available today. I believe districts are not taking advantage of the full opportunity available in universal screening when they choose to use Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs).

What is a CAT?

A CAT is essentially an achievement test that is used to identify risk status. Students take the test on a computer. The test includes many, many items that have been ordered from easy to hard. Students are first presented with items somewhere in the middle of the difficulty scale, or at a place indicated by their grade level, or perhaps based on a previous test score.

When the student responds correctly to an item or items, they are presented with more difficult items, based on the performance of other students who previously took the test. When the student responds incorrectly to an item, they are presented with easier items. Each student has their own unique path through the assessment.

The computer software does a...

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Ode to MOY

Uncategorized Jan 24, 2023

Ode to MOY (Middle of Year)

The middle of the school year is a great time to stop and take stock of the path you are on. Middle of year screening results provide useful information for planning what Tier 1 reading instruction should look like for the second half of the school year.

      "And there's still time to change the road you're on." -- Led Zeppelin

Listed below are key considerations for grade-level team planning:

1. What percentage of students in each grade scored in the at-risk range on the screening measures? If less than 20% are at risk, analyze and improve the Tier 2/3 system. If more than 20% are at risk, analyze and improve the Tier 1 system.

2. Is this an increase or decrease from beginning of year?  Discuss the potential reasons for the change in scores from beginning to middle of year.

3. Review the characteristics of effective Tier 1 instruction (primary prevention of reading failure). Which characteristics could be changed or improved to...

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Holiday 2022 SOR Booklist

Uncategorized Nov 23, 2022

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Small Group Q & A

Uncategorized Jun 22, 2022

As teachers move away from balanced literacy instruction grounded in using leveled text and "word solving" based on the text's meaning, syntax, and visual information, several practical questions emerge about classroom grouping practices.

How much time to spend in whole group vs. small group?

Universal screening data should help answer this question. If most of your students score at the same level on a skill, it makes sense to teach it in a whole group format. However, if there is a wide range of performance on a skill, it might be better to use targeted small group instruction.

Many times, this sorts out into teaching vocabulary listening comprehension, and background knowledge in whole group, and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension in small groups.

How to put students into small groups?

Universal screening data that indicates the essential early literacy skills provides a starting place for forming small groups. Basic patterns of strengths and needs...

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Do We Stop Making Sense When We Assess With Nonsense Words?

Uncategorized Mar 23, 2022

I recently posted a video about my love of the Nonsense Word Fluency assessment that generate lots of questions and discussion. People asked for a document that included the points I had made in the video. I couldn't find anything, so I'm attempting a summary here. Let me know what you think.

Why Do So Many Assessments Use Non-words?

Reading non-words is a true indicator of the alphabetic principle and basic phonics. To read non-words, students must apply their knowledge of phoneme-grapheme relationships to decoding.

The alphabetic principle is an essential understanding that includes two parts:

1.  the understanding that letters represent sound

2.  the ability to recode letter sounds into whole words

Reading non-words requires accurately and automatically matching sounds to symbols, and blending the letter-sounds into words.

Students will only do well on nonword reading if they have acquired the alphabetic principle. Students who are reading via rote memorization of...

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Blinded With Science?

Uncategorized Jan 14, 2022

If you’ve been following the recent conversation about phonemic awareness, you may be experiencing a range of thoughts and emotions that include avoidance, confusion, and disappointment. I’ve felt all of those, and more!

Many of you have expressed thoughts along the lines of … If the experts can’t agree, then is there really a science of reading?

Although I don’t support the personal attacks and angry rants, I recognize that disagreement and conflicting conclusions are essential elements of science.  Science advances through the free exchange of ideas – even opposing and conflicting ideas – in a community of professionals who are willing to keep each other honest.

 Raising questions about prevailing beliefs and practices is healthy, normal, and necessary. The ideas and practices that hold up to challenges are the ones we can implement with confidence. The ideas and practices that lack scientific support form the basis for future...

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Holiday Reading and Gift Guide 2021

Uncategorized Nov 17, 2021



Title & Author


Ordering Link




Reading for Life

An accessible introduction to the essential early literacy skills, the reading wars, and effective reading instruction.





Archer and Hughes


Explicit instruction

The definitive guide to designing instruction that is explicit, systematic and sequential.




Gibbons, Brown and Niebling


Effective Universal Instruction

A practical guide for analyzing and improving Tier 1 reading instruction.







Speech to Print

The best way to learn the language foundations of reading and writing.

Book https://amzn.to/3Cu4YuZ

Workbook https://amzn.to/3cj1ktB





Language at the Speed of Sight

A comprehensive review of the reading research and reasons for the gap between research and practice.


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What is a Vowel?

Uncategorized Jul 13, 2021

Before I read Speech to Print or took LETRS training for the first time, I thought there were exactly three things to know about vowels:

  1. vowels are the letters A E I O and U
  2. there are 5 of them
  3. they can be either long or short

 Wrong, wrong, and boy was I wrong!

 Since that time, I’ve learned soooooo much about vowels. I suspect there is still more to learn. The study of the English language never ends!

 I’m going to share a list of what I now think about vowels, and ask you to revise and extend my list.

 Here goes…in no particular order:

  1. vowels are phonemes/sounds that are not consonants
  2. vowel phonemes can be represented by a variety of letter, well beyond A E I O and U
  3. every syllable has a vowel phoneme
  4. vowel phonemes can be categorized as tense or lax
  5. the syllable type can indicate the pronunciation of the vowel
  6. vowel phonemes can be reduced to schwa in unstressed syllables
  7. vowels can change sound when they precede a nasal consonant...
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My Triangle is Upside Down

Uncategorized Feb 25, 2021

Every couple of months I hear this phrase …my triangle is upside down… and I am reminded of the need to clarify the tiered systems of support represented by the triangle graphic used in MTSS.

When people say their triangle is upside down, they mean they have more students who are at risk than who are on track.  But the three-tiered model is about instruction, not students. There are no Tier 1 students, Tier 2 students and Tier 3 students, only Tier 1 instruction, Tier 2 instruction, and Tier 3 instruction. Understanding the three-tiered model and the purposes of universal screening can provide the mechanisms for turning things around.

The Three-Tiered Model

The three-tiered model is about prevention of reading failure. The tiers describe a system of increasingly intensive instructional supports that cause all students to reach grade-level reading expectations.  The tiered model provides a framework for efficiently using data to match student needs to the...

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Paying Attention to the Letters

Uncategorized Oct 22, 2020
Lucy Calkins reveals what she doesn’t (yet) know about the science of reading in her recent post in a Facebook group called Units of Study in Writing TCRWP. Her comments reveal that she is the one demonstrating “misunderstandings and misconceptions”.
I’m not questioning her motives and not writing this in response to her. I am writing this for the teachers who are forced to use these materials and other balanced literacy programs. These statements reveal the misunderstandings about reading science and how her planned changes mean no real change at all.
1. Phonological awareness is only valuable as a means to phonemic awareness (blending and segmenting phonemes). It can’t be assessed briefly by asking students to read words and it won’t tell you if a student’s knowledge of phonics is growing. Phonemic awareness activities are done without print.
2. Decodable books are not a stand-alone solution....
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