Assessing Vocabulary Development

As with other areas of literacy assessment, the assessment of students' vocabulary development should be varied and meaningful. Janet Allen (1999) lists the following indicators of students' vocabulary development:

As Steven Tchudi (1997) explains, assessment uses descriptions rather than judgments of readers and writers and is formative, or in process, rather than summative or final. Evaluation, on the other hand, is summative. When we evaluate students' vocabulary growth, we compare students' use of vocabulary to an established benchmark or standard of expected student performance at a particular point in time. So, when we say we are assessing students' vocabulary growth, we are involved in data collection. When we evaluate students' vocabulary growth, we are placing a value on that data based on the Sunshine State Standards and Benchmarks.

Here are some important reminders about vocabulary assessment:

Johnson (2001) identifies three problems with assessing vocabulary. First, how do you decide which words to test? Second, what does it mean to know a word, and third, how do you actually test the word?  Johnson (2001) suggests that depending upon the test format you decide to use, different information would be gathered. A student may be able to draw an illustration of a word, but unable to identify a synonym.

Students need to be able to demonstrate word knowledge on tests. Teachers should provide students with practice in common vocabulary testing formats. Johnson (2001) recommends three formats to acquaint students with:  

Vocabulary assessment should be varied, meaningful, and match instruction (NRP, 2000). Johnson (2001) suggests that teachers assess vocabulary in their classrooms using written work, cloze passages, hinky pinkies (riddles), memory games, teacher tests, and by asking students directly. Johnson offers some suggestions for testing word knowledge. 

We could ask the child to:

Formative assessment strategies that teachers can use to document students' vocabulary development include:

Anecdotal Records

Teachers take notes during class time as they listen for students to use target vocabulary during class discussions. While reading student writing, teachers take notes on students' use or misuse of target vocabulary or word elements such as roots and affixes.

Students' Work Samples

Students select samples of their writing at pre-determined times during a grading period. These samples are stored in writing folders, notebooks, or in students' literacy portfolios. Together, teachers and students can examine writing samples at the end of each report card period to note differences in students' use of words studied. Then, teachers assist students to set reasonable goals for learning vocabulary during the next grading period.


Teachers create checklists of vocabulary skills such as a list of root words and affixes they will be teaching. Then, near the middle and again near the end of each grading period, teachers examine student writing using the checklist. They place a check by each of the new roots or affixes students use in their writing. By examining each student's use of the desired vocabulary, teachers are able to plan vocabulary instruction to meet students' needs.


Students select samples of their work (writing assignments, quizzes, tests, etc.) and organize them in a portfolio. Near the end of each grading period, teachers conference with students about their work. Using the evidence collected in the portfolio, teachers and students determine if students have met their established goals for that grading period. Together, they establish new goals.

do this

View this Jeopardy-like game at YouTube


do this

How does this lesson translate to the real classroom? The case study (studies) presented in this lesson demonstrates how teachers like you have applied what they have learned from the FOR-PD course. As you read the case study, think about the guiding questions presented earlier in the lesson.

Lesson 7 Case Study - by Brian Dorman


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