Assessment Techniques Corresponding to Scientific Texts in Commercial Reading Programs: Do They Promote Scientific Literacy?


  • Linda M. Phillips University of Alberta
  • Stephen P. Norris University of Alberta
  • Martha L. Smith University of Alberta
  • Jodi Buker University of Alberta
  • Chandra Kasper University of Alberta



This research is part of a larger study of commercial reading programs used in Canada in grades 1-6. The specific purposes of the results reported here were to identify and quantify the assessment techniques suggested for the selections that contain scientific content, to show how the assessments differ by grade, to evaluate the nature and quality of the assessments, and to examine the extent to which the assessments help foster scientific literacy. It was found that the assessments occurred in six major forms and employed about a dozen assessment tools that engage students in nearly 20 tasks. Such variety is endorsed in both literacy and science education position statements. The assessments showed some weak trends by grade, but primarily left the purpose of the assessments to teachers’ judgment. The consequence is that teachers probably will choose the assessments for formative rather than summative evaluation, an approach also endorsed by literacy and science education policy statements. Hardly any of the assessments focused on the specificities of learning to read texts that are scientific such as interpreting descriptions of methods and research findings and thus had limited use in promoting this particular aspect of scientific literacy.

Author Biographies

Linda M. Phillips, University of Alberta

Linda Phillips is a professor of language and literacy studies and Director of the Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy, Department of Elementary Education.

Stephen P. Norris, University of Alberta

Stephen Norris is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Scientific Literacy and the Public Understanding of Science, Department of Educational Policy Studies.

Martha L. Smith, University of Alberta

Martha Smith is a contract researcher and a freelance writer/editor. She was a research associate in the Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy while this study was being conducted.

Jodi Buker, University of Alberta

Jodi Buker is a program coordinator for the Read With Me program in the Calgary Public Library. At the time of this study, she worked in the Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy for the duration of her Roger Smith Undergraduate Research Award.

Chandra Kasper, University of Alberta

Chandra Kasper is a teacher with Edmonton Public Schools. She was working as a research assistant in the Canadian Centre for Research on Literacy while this study was being conducted.