Assessing Comprehension in Kindergarten Through Third Grade

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Traditional measures of reading ability designed for younger students typically focus on componential skills (e.g., decoding, vocabulary), and the items are often presented in a discrete and decontextualized format. The current study was designed to explore whether it was feasible to develop a more integrated, scenario-based assessment of comprehension for younger students. A secondary goal was to examine developmental differences in item performance when administration was in listening versus reading modalities. Cross-sectional differences were examined across kindergarten to third grade on a scenario-based assessment comprising literal comprehension, inference, vocabulary, and background knowledge items. The assessment, originally targeted for third grade, was administered one-on-one to 141 third-grade and 485 second-grade students. It was adapted for and administered to kindergarten (n = 390) and first-grade (n = 419) students by reducing the number of items and switching to a listening comprehension method of administration. Each grade was significantly more accurate than the previous grade on overall performance and background knowledge. A regression analysis showed significant variance associated with background knowledge in predicting comprehension, even after controlling for grade. A deeper analysis of item performance across grades was conducted to examine what elements worked well and where improvements should be made in adapting comprehension assessments for use with young children.

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