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Assessing Comprehension in Kindergarten Through Third Grade

Sabatini, John P.; Halderman, Laura K.; O'Reilly, Tenaha; Weeks, Jonathan P.

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000104
Original Articles

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.

Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey.

Corresponding Author: John P. Sabatini, Educational Testing Service, 660 Rosedale Rd, MS-13E, Princeton, NJ 08541 (

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100005 to the Educational Testing Service as part of the Reading for Understanding Research (RFU) Initiative and Grant R305A150176-16. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of Educational Testing Service, the Institute, or the U.S. Department of Education.

The authors thank Kelsey Dreier, Kim Fryer, Don Powers, Jonathan Steinberg, Zuowei Wang, the journal editors, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and editorial assistance.

The authors have indicated that they have no financial and no nonfinancial relationships to disclose.

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