Assessment and Instructional Framework

The goal of assessment is not only to measure a student’s present performance,  but also to discover what the student would be able to do given both an appropriate instructional setting and appropriate instructional practices.

To accomplish this goal, we employ an assessment model that we have called “intervention assessment” (Paratore and Indrisano, 1987). It is designed to elicit student strengths and needs and to gain insights into the instructional processes that are likely to optimize students’ achievement in reading and writing. Intervention assessment is based on the well-established concept of diagnostic teaching of reading (e.g., Harris and Roswell, 1953; Strang, 1964).  However, unlike the earlier conceptions of diagnostic teaching, which emphasized defining the nature of the individual’s reading difficulties, Intervention Assessment emphasizes both the identification of the areas of weakness or difficulty and also the identification of the instructional conditions that enable the student to experience success. This approach to assessment is grounded in the cognitive theory of Vygotsky (1978) and in the particular notion that optimal learning occurs within a “zone of proximal development” defined as:

The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance. (p. 86)

In other words, as we work with students, we seek to understand the ways students read  and write on their own, with no assistance or support from a teacher or a more capable peer, and we also seek to understand and observe the types of assistance or support that enable the student to successfully accomplish tasks that prove too difficult for the student to do alone.  We do this by “trying out” a variety of research-based instructional interventions to determine those that enable the student to experience success.

When students first arrive at the RWC, they participate in assessments, based on a collection of research-validated formal and informal measures, to determine areas of strength and need. Assessments represent the critical literacy domains of motivation and interest, phonemic awareness and phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.  Based on assessment outcomes, lessons are planned to meet observed needs and to build on the identified conditions of success.

Students work with teachers individually, and occasionally, in small groups or with partners.  They have time each day to read texts that are selected for them by the teacher and time to read texts of their own choosing. Students also have opportunities to write in response to teachers’ prompts, as well as topics of their own choosing. The texts students read include both fiction and non-fiction; an effort is made to select texts that are the same as or similar to those that students will encounter in their own classrooms.  In concert with research and theory that suggests that reading and writing are social activities, we also embed opportunities for students to talk with others about their reading and writing activities.

Although the specific instructional lessons differ from student to student, the teaching principles that undergird each and every lesson are unchanging. Those principles are aptly described by Morrow, Gambrel, and Pressley (2003) as follows:

  1. Teach reading for authentic meaning-making literacy experiences.
  2. Use high-quality literature.
  3. Integrate a comprehensive word study/phonics program into reading/writing instruction.
  4. Use multiple texts that link and expand concepts.
  5. Balance teacher- and student-led discussions.
  6. Build a whole class community that emphasizes important concepts and builds background knowledge.
  7. Work with students in small groups while other students read and write about what they have read.
  8. Give students plenty of time to read in class.
  9. Give students direct instruction in decoding amd comprehension strategy. Balance direct instruction, guided instruction, and independent learning.
  10. Use a variety of assessment techniques to inform instruction.

In sum, the Boston University Reading and Writing Clinic integrates assessment and instructional practices validated by current research and theory and implements these practices within a learning context that is cognitively and socially engaging and intellectually and affectively supportive. 

  • Harris, A., J., & Roswell, F. G. (1953). Clinical diagnosis of reading disability. Journal of Psychology, 63, pp. 323-340.
  • Morrow, L. M., Gambrell, L. B.  & Pressley, M.  (Eds.) (2003). Best practices in literacy instruction (Second ed). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Paratore, J.R. & Indrisano, R. (1987). Intervention assessment in reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher , 40, pp. 778-783.
  • Strang, R. L. (1969). The diagnostic teaching of reading. (Second ed.)  NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Vytotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.