I've been spending the last couple of days at school giving Informal Reading Inventories (also known as Individual Reading Inventory or Qualitative Reading Inventory) to my 5th grade Literacy Group students. For the most part, the test is straightforward and takes between 10 and 15 minutes per student. However, Beth (not her real name) is not my typical test-taker and I spent over an hour testing her. I am very perplexed by her mannerisms and I am hoping that my readers may have some insights to share about this student.
Beth is a victim of abuse, but I have no details about the particulars. She has seen a therapist in the past, though I don't know if she is still. She was tested/assessed for autism, but was not diagnosed as autistic.
When I begin the IRI testing, I try to put the students at ease, letting them know that the test isn't for a grade and it just helps me and their classroom teacher be better at teaching them to become successful readers. The students are instructed that if they don't know the answer to any question, it is ok to say that they don't know.
The particular behavior that makes Beth hard to assess are that she takes a long time to process before she answers a question and she won't say when she doesn't know an answer. She uses silence as avoidance. This makes it very difficult for me when testing her because I do not know how long to wait for her to give me an answer. With some of the questions on the IRI, I waited up to five minutes for her to say anything before I finally asked her if she would like me to repeat the question. She immediately answered, "No." Then I asked if she had an answer and again she replied, "No." But she won't say that she doesn't have an answer. She was very obviously frustrated and cried during the testing. This was distressing to me as I am NOT testing students to cause them fear and frustration. I tried to keep things light and kept telling her it was ok not to know answers. During the portion of the IRI where she can look back at the reading for the answers, she chose not to. I spent some time at the end of the test going over the answers with her; she seemed frustrated because she did not believe that the answers were in the text and I wanted her to see that they were, and to explain to her how she could find them.
The length of time it takes her to answer a question or complete a task is a detriment to her in classroom as well. A classroom teacher with 30 students does not have the time to wait for 5 minutes for a student to answer a question. It is difficult for her to participate in discussions because it takes her so long to formulate what she wants to say. This time conflict also manifested on the standardized Gates McGinitie Reading test that we give to all students at the end of each school year. Taking the test as a timed test (35 minutes), as it is supposed to be administered, shows that Beth has a comprehension grade equivalency of 4.1, but when given the time to complete the test (which took her three hours) her grade equivalency is 9.3.
Both the Gates test and the IRI are just tools we use to assess where our students are. They help us to determine which students need more attention and they help us to individualize instruction. The bigger question I have is not how to assess Beth, but how to address her needs so that she is not overlooked in the classroom. As she moves through the grade levels, I have serious concerns that she is going to slip through the cracks.
I'm hoping that someone out there has worked with a student like Beth and can offer some strategies that will help us (her teachers) be more successful with her.