Language and Literacy Assessments

How Simple Language & Literacy Assessments Gauge School Readiness

The College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) has long been a leader in child development. That’s why I decided to attend graduate school here following my work as a preschool teacher. My teaching experiences made me interested in how children engage with books, and why some kids really love books while others don’t. My post-graduate studies evolved along that trajectory into language and literacy assessments and how we might strengthen the probability of later reading success by preventing issues in school readiness during the early childhood years.

My experience adds invaluable context to my work with research on assessment and how teachers use data to make decisions for their students today. Knowing what variables teachers manage from day to day has allowed me to put myself in their shoes in an authentic way.

Individual Growth and Development Indicators

In order to determine whether a child may benefit from early language and literacy intervention, there are a series of assessments called Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs) designed for children ranging from age three to the end of their pre-kindergarten year, which is typically age five. IGDIs are teacher-friendly, quick and easy indicators to find out if a child is on track for later reading success or if they may need early language and literacy support.

  • Oral language. These measures ask children to label pictures. Usually this consists of the administrator pointing at an image and asking what it is to evaluate a child’s vocabulary knowledge.
  • Phonological awareness. These measures ask children to identify things like rhymes or the first sounds in words, identifying or manipulating the sounds of words they encounter in each item.
  • Alphabet knowledge. These measures evaluate children’s understanding of how sounds and letters are represented in the alphabet.
  • Early comprehension. An important indicator for young kids are the inferences they make based on the knowledge they have. For example, one way to determine this is the “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” measure where children are shown a series of three to four images and asked to select which of the images doesn’t belong with the others using their background knowledge.

These indicators produce scores that let teachers know in real-time if a student is on-track, if they know all their concepts, and if they are ready to move toward long-term reading success as they age. Conversely, when scores are low, IGDIs help identify a potential deficit in any one of these areas and let the teacher know where they could help the child be more successful.

What’s on the Horizon for IGDIs

The core of work in the IGDI Lab at CEHD focuses development of those IGDIs into other languages, with new populations and in the context of data-based decision-making models. What started as an English-only method of assessment has grown tremendously. We’ve developed IGDIs for Spanish-speaking students. We’re also working on a joint project with St. Paul Public Schools to develop IGDIs for the Hmong community and we are extending IGDIs to new age groups, including 3 year olds. We’ve migrated measures to technology platforms and are working to facilitate improved teacher interactions with the data.

Parallel to the work surrounding IGDIs for children, we are also working on intervention indicators for educators, and eventually parents. This work builds on all that we’ve learned across our IGDILab projects and leverages what we know to help parents and educators in supporting early language and literacy skills.

How to Tell if Your Child is On-Track for Early Reading Success

Here are a few things to look for that will let you know if your child is where he or she should be when it comes to reading comprehension:

  • Vocabulary. An important factor is if the child has a wide and deep vocabulary. This allows them to properly express themselves. Vocabulary is an important predictor of later reading success and at 4-5 years of age typical preschoolers can identify and use vocabulary to communicate.
  • Identifying letters. As a child is learning, we often look for their ability to know what letters are and how they contribute to words. In the pre-kindergarten year, we expect four- to five-year-old preschoolers to be able to identify the letters in their first name and know that letters are part of words.
  • Detecting sounds in words. Another factor we look for is whether the child can match or identify the sounds within a word. For example at 4-5 years old, we expect preschoolers to be able to receptively identify component sounds in words through strategic manipulation of sounds, like rhyming. For example, if we say, “which word rhymes with cat: hat or mouse?” most preschoolers can select an appropriate response.
Alisha Wackerle-Hollman

About the Author

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, Ph.D.

  • Senior Research Associate
  • Department of Educational Psychology
  • College of Education and Human Development

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