Development of Informal Prose Inventories

DEVELOPER: Hilton Ayrey
During my 18 years as a primary classroom teacher I was often perplexed by the students who arrived in my classroom at the beginning of the new year with over inflated reading ages. When I started working with them in reading groups it was quickly apparent that while they could decode the text they didn't have a good understanding of the content.

I looked for ways to assess comprehension only to find that the research was inconclusive; comprehension is a very illusive cognitive process, difficult to measure. In my search for some way of providing comprehension benchmarks for students, I created a series of Informal Prose Inventories. In addition to the traditional running record component that provides a measure of accuracy and decoding strategy use, I included comprehensive retelling and question prompts as measures of understanding to provide a more valid scoring system than the subjective measures used in the past.

Selection of test passages
Passages were taken from stories published in New Zealand School Journals. An attempt to select passages that were 'neutral' but not 'redundant' - passages from within a story that could stand alone as an extract and generate interest and engagement from the reader. Using my own class over a number of years I eventually established a credible progression. Over time I wrote some of my own stories to supplement School Journal stories. 

Grading the text
NZ School Journal stories are already graded using Warwick Elley's Noun Frequency Method. I used this same method to establish the reading age for each passage as the overall readability of a story can be significantly different from a portion of it.

Trialling the progression
Having assembled a number of passages at each of my reading levels (reading ages) I trialled these passages with my own class and over a number of years established a series of texts which provided a credible progression for a wide range range of readers.There was also a reasonable correlation to other testing procedures used in schools (PAT).

I joined the New Zealand Graduate School of New Zealand as a tutor in 1999 and began to use this resource as part of the literacy programme that I was responsible for developing to train teachers. The first set of tests were published in 1999 followed by a second set in 2001 at the request of teachers for more tests at each level. For the second set I followed the same selection process and employed a teacher to trial the tests in schools to sort out any difficulties.

In 2003 a third set was written, trialled and published, this time non-fiction passages were used in recognition of the difference comprehension demands presented by the different text genres. 

These tests are used extensively in New Zealand schools and Australia and hundreds of copies have been purchased by teachers world wide.


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