Assessing vocabulary

There are several ways vocabulary knowledge can be assessed depending on the level of knowledge to be assessed and the purpose of assessment. For example,
there may be concern that a student is struggling with general vocabulary knowledge or that they may require additional support to build deeper knowledge of words. A combination of assessments can provide a more complete picture of the extent of knowledge of a word (Beck et al., 2013).

General measures of vocabulary

Measures of general vocabulary knowledge are often standardised assessments that provide an overall score which can be compared with normative data to find out how a student is tracking compared to others of the same age. Such measures can be useful in the context of assessing broader reading skills to identify if poor general vocabulary knowledge may be a barrier to reading comprehension. Most standardised vocabulary assessments are only available for use by people with specialist qualifications such as speech-language pathologists and educational psychologists. Two standardised assessments that can be used by qualified teachers are:

1. Renfrew Word Finding Vocabulary Test (Renfrew, 2010)

2. CUBED Narrative Language Measures (Peterson & Spencer, 2016)

Standardised vocabulary measures are designed to assess generic vocabulary knowledge so they are less sensitive to knowledge of specific words. To assess the acquisition of vocabulary taught in the classroom, a curriculum-based assessment will be more useful.

Curriculum-based assessment of vocabulary

Informal observation of students’ use of vocabulary in their interactions with the teacher and other students, and in their writing, can provide a general idea of a student’s acquisition of vocabulary words being taught. However, to gain a better understanding of an individual student’s skills or to confirm informal observations, Beck et al. (2013) recommend several test formats that can be used with words that have been taught. 

  • Multiple choice
    Questions may require the selection of the correct definition or usage and may have distractors
  • True or false
    Questions can be made easier by including more concrete information or made more difficult by being more abstract.
  • Examples and non-examples
    Students are required to select the correct usage of the word from an example and a non-example.
  • Writing task with target words as topic
    For example, “Describe a ‘dilapidated’ house”
  • Similarities and differences
    Describing similarities and differences between pairs of words
  • Responding to target words in context
    For example, “Zoe was happy that she had ‘reconciled’ with her friend after a long time of not seeing each other.”

These sorts of assessments do not have a norms or standard scores so in order to assess growth, teachers will need to administer them before and after instruction.

Hi there!

Want to drop us a line?  You can get in touch by filling out the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!