It Takes 2 to Tango: How the DRA2 handheld is transforming reading assessment

DRA2 Tango EditionSitting at a table with an eager first-grade boy, teacher Courtney Somers taps information into a handheld device the size of a mobile phone. It’s an award-winning device called the DRA2 Handheld-Tango™ Software Edition, and it’s helping the boy read better and faster while providing the teacher with valuable information about his reading performance.

“I want you to think of three things that will happen in the rest of this story,” Ms. Somers tells the boy, who is reading portions of Game Day, the book he has chosen for his reading assessment on a sunny March morning at Hastings Elementary School in Duncanville, Texas, just outside Dallas.

As the student reads, Ms. Somers marks any errors he makes by using a stylus to enter information into her DRA2 Handheld. His reading skills are excellent, and Ms. Somers also tests his comprehension by asking what he remembered about the story. The student is able to recount most of it but forgets one of the major characters – a raccoon.

Winning the SIIA CODiE award

2009 SIIA CODIE winnerThis is the sort of detail that’s entered into the DRA2, so teachers can easily retrieve for each student important information on where they are proficient and where they need attention. It’s a time-saving and mobile solution for teachers, whose innovation won top honors for Best Educational Use of a Technology Device in the Software & Information Industry Association’s annual CODiE awards in 2009.

Pearson created the DRA2 in conjunction with Liberty Source, the developer of the Tango handheld software embedded in the device. The system was also made available in late 2009 for Apple’s popular iPod touch device. There is also a Spanish version of DRA2 used in bilingual, dual languages and immersion classrooms across the U.S.

 “It’s a great learning tool,” says Ms. Somers, who has been teaching for 10 years. “We can target problem areas immediately, and then focus squarely on those. That’s a huge help, especially for first-year teachers. It’s all there, ready to go.”

“The kids are really comfortable with it,” adds Barbara Griggs, who teaches kindergarten at Hastings. In her class, the children work in busy clusters while Ms. Griggs invites students individually to her desk to read.

Finding the right reading level

For teachers, work with the DRA2 Handheld begins with a conversation with each student about what sort of books he or she enjoys reading, their level of enthusiasm for books in general, and who reads with them outside of the classroom. Based on this rubric, the teacher then arrives at an overall reading engagement score on the Handheld.

The next step in assessment is deciding how well a student has comprehended what they have just read, through an oral or written questionnaire on the text. Another rubric is provided on the Handheld to determine an overall comprehension score, and the Tango software also registers the amount of time a student takes to read a book and the number of errors made as they read aloud.

Based on the information gathered, the teacher will finally be given an overall DRA2 score for the student, and the software will subsequently suggest an appropriate independent reading level and books associated with that level.

“Comprehension levels in the school are way up, which we’re obviously thrilled about,” says principal Julie Hargrove.

 Peter Cohen, chief executive of Pearson Curriculum, says the DRA2 Handheld illustrates how “technology has incredible power to transform learning for all students,” by combining a proven assessment tool with innovative technology.

“Reading levels always vary’

A girl kindergarten student in Ms. Griggs’ class chooses a book titled Get It. She loves books that rhyme, so she comes up with her own little ditty on the spot: “The cat sees a fat rat.”

As she tries to think of another rhyme, another girl student comes up with a book she has pulled out of her pink princess backpack. “Can I read it to you?” she asks, then plants herself on the floor and begins to read from a book called Duke.

She chose Duke because it reminds her of her own dog at home whom she misses. After she finishes reading, Ms. Griggs closes the book and asks her to retell the story. The teacher tracks the parts the student remembers, and the parts she forgets, on her Handheld.

“Reading levels always vary within each class,” says Ms. Griggs, who has been teaching kindergarten for 12 years. “But the DRA2 makes assessing those levels really easy.”