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Project PRIDE Assessments and the Illinois Snapshot of Early Literacy

Written by William Bursuck
Professor, Department of Teacher Education
Director, Project PRIDE
Northern Illinois University
Dekalb, IL 60115

Note: The Project PRIDE measures mentioned in this critique are a carefully coordinated combination of DIBELS assessments as developed at the University of Oregon (Dibels Rapid Letter Naming; Dibels Segmenting, Dibels Nonsense Words) and curriculum based assessments (CBAs) to match the Harcourt and Open Court curricula used in our project schools. More information on the PRIDE assessments can be found at Illinois currently requires that school districts administer the ISEL as a key assessment in order to qualify for inclusion under the No Child Left Behind reform.
Project PRIDE believes that in order to best meet the needs of children who are at-risk for having reading problems, all efforts to assess and teach children who are at risk need to be carefully coordinated. This coordinated effort includes the assessments that are given. The purpose of this informational sheet is to provide information on the ISEL and the PRIDE measures for PRIDE schools to assure that the assessments given there are efficient (take as little time away from instruction as possible), provide information on skills important for early literacy development (accurately identify children at-risk and help teachers monitor performance on these valuable skills), and lead to programming consistency (assessment and teaching strategies support each other, leading to clear unambiguous expectations for students).

What are the purposes for the ISEL and PRIDE assessments?

As stated on the ISBE website, the purpose of the Illinois Snapshot of Early Literacy (ISEL) is to help kindergarten and first grade teachers plan for early literacy instruction, identify children in need of specialized interventions, and assess students' early literacy progress. These are also the purposes of the Curriculum Based Assessments (CBAs) and Dibels assessments used in kindergarten and first grade in Project PRIDE.

Project PRIDE uses the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) to identify children in kindergarten who are at-risk for later reading problems. How does its accuracy as a predictor of future reading problems compare to the ISEL?

The developers of the TPRI thoroughly established the accuracy of their measure as a predictor of later reading problems. The results of their research are available in a technical manual. The accuracy of the ISEL as a predictor of later reading problems has not been researched.

Which skills should early literacy assessments include? Do the ISEL and Pride assessments include these skills? If so, how are they measured?

Alphabet Recognition

Both ISEL and PRIDE measure alphabet recognition. ISEL measures the accuracy with which children read the letters of the alphabet, as early as the beginning of kindergarten. The ISEL measure is not timed. PRIDE measures the accuracy and rate at which children can name letters of the alphabet. The PRIDE measure is timed and is not given until first grade, when all children have had an opportunity to learn their letters. The rate at which children can name letters of the alphabet is a proven indicator of at-risk . Rapid letter naming measures how quickly children can retrieve material already learned- an important predictor of later reading fluency. Letter recognition assessments that don't take rate into account, measure letter knowledge, not retrieval. Letter knowledge is by itself not useful for reading beginning words. Letter sounds are a more useful skill for at-risk kindergarten children.


Both the ISEL and PRIDE assessments measure letter sounds. The PRIDE CBAs are designed to match the sequence and time line for the reading series used in project schools (Open Court and Harcourt).

Phonemic Awareness

The ISEL measures phonemic awareness by having students match the first sounds in words to pictures (first sound segmenting). PRIDE measures first sound segmenting during the first half of kindergarten, but also measures full word segmenting beginning in January of kindergarten. Full-word segmenting is the more important indicator and skill. PRIDE also assesses oral sound blending; ISEL does not. The ISEL manual says it also measures phonemic awareness through its developmental spelling measure but this method is likely to be too indirect for children just learning to write.

Alphabetic Principle (beginning phonics skills)

PRIDE measures children's understanding of basic word sounding or phonics skills using the DIBELS Nonsense Word measure, a measure shown to predict how well children will be reading passages by the end of first grade. The Dibels Nonsense Word measure is a timed measure of sounding fluency. Benchmark levels are used to monitor student performance. PRIDE also assesses specific sounds covered in the first grade Open Court and Harcourt using the PRIDE sounds CBAs. The ISEL does not measure directly students' phonics skills. Instead, the ISEL assesses whole word reading through tasks involving one-to-one matching, word naming, sight word reading and predictable book reading, assessments that emphasize strategies other than sounding words out. Sight reading is de-emphasized in the PRIDE kindergarten and beginning first grade measures because we believe phonemic awareness and phonics should take initial precedence for at-risk readers. However, PRIDE does assess sight words covered in Open Court or Harcourt in its monthly grade 1 CBAs.

Passage reading

ISEL measures student performance in oral passage reading in the fall, winter, and spring of grade 1. As mentioned, the fall passages de-emphasize sounding out through the use of predictable passage. Predictable passages allow children to bypass sounding words out by encouraging them to guess at words using pictures and/or context cues. The winter and spring ISEL assessments stress passage reading accuracy using standard grade 1 level passages. PRIDE does not measure oral passage reading until March of grade 1, as most at-risk students are not ready for passages until then. The DIBELs Nonsense Word reading measure used by PRIDE, stresses student fluency as well as accuracy, and uses established fluency benchmarks to evaluate student performance.


Both ISEL and PRIDE use a developmental spelling measure in kindergarten. In grade 1, PRIDE coordinates reading and spelling by monitoring student performance on weekly spelling tests based on skills introduced in their reading series.

Listening comprehension

Both ISEL and PRIDE measure listening comprehension, an important prerequisite to reading comprehension. PRIDE also assesses basic oral receptive and expressive language skills using the Language for Learning placement test.

Which parts of the ISEL should we use at our schools?

We at PRIDE have always stressed the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction for children who are at-risk for reading problems. We believe this approach is confirmed by the recent Nation Reading Panel report that we recently distributed to your schools.

Overall, the ISEL assessment tends to de-emphasize phonological and phonics skills. For example, the assessment of word reading using predictable text, one-to-one matching, word naming, and sight word reading is inconsistent with the phonics approach used in Project PRIDE. Where phonological skills are assessed, we believe they are inadequate, such as in assessing first sound segmenting only and not including blending. The ISEL measures also fail to take student rate or fluency into account, a problem given the fact that rate is a key problem for at-risk readers. While the listening comprehension and developmental spelling measures for kindergarten are fine, comparable assessments are in the Pride battery.

For these reasons , we don't recommend giving the ISEL. We believe that the PRIDE assessments are currently enabling us to identify at-risk readers, monitor their progress, and provide more intensive instruction as needed. We believe the time it would take to give the ISEL is not warranted given the amount and nature of new information it would add to what we are already collecting.

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