Informal reading assessments generally take place in the natural learning environment of the classroom. Types of informal reading assessments include: checklists, running records, observations, work samples, portfolios, rating scales and parent interviews. Informal assessments are useful because they provide information about how children apply reading on a daily basis. However, there are some drawbacks to using informal tests.
Reliability and Validity
One of the most significant disadvantages in using informal reading assessments is the lack of validity and reliability data. Validity means that an assessment tests what it is purports to test. For example, a test of third-grade reading should not be written for a seventh-grade level. Reliability refers to an assessment that elicits consistent results; the same test will offer the same results repeatedly. Informal assessments do not lend themselves to being tested for validity and reliability. Therefore, students' scores cannot be easily compared to their previous scores, scores of other students or to a particular criterion. This makes it difficult to report the scores to parents, administrators and others.
Most informal assessment instruments are very time consuming. Informal reading inventories and running records take a great deal of time to administer. Observations and running records require time to record, transcribe, decode and create reports to share with parents and administrators. Work samples and portfolios require time to compile and organise. Parent interviews require time to connect with parents and conduct an interview.
Teachers must have specific training to administer informal assessments properly. Teachers need professional development to support test administration, reporting results and how to apply the knowledge gleaned from the test results. Effective staff development can be expensive and time consuming.
Work samples, portfolios and checklists may not be able to capture the context of the child's performance. These are snapshots of the student's ability. They do not tell anything of the conditions in the classroom at the time of the collection. For example, a particular assignment might have been interrupted by a fire drill. This might lead to a child's performance being less than optimal.
Results of rating scales, checklists, interviews and observations may be influenced by observer bias. If a parent or teacher has an overly negative or positive view of a child's abilities, he may report data based upon this bias. Teachers must use more than one type of assessment in order to get a complete picture of the student's reading abilities.