DRA stands for the Developmental Reading Assessment, a reading assessment program published by Pearson. The DRA is used in schools across the nation to assess student reading fluency and comprehension. This year was my first using the DRA in my classroom, as it was adopted by my school district at the end of last school year.
Of course I went through all of the trainings that came with the program (they were provided on DVD's, and my school set up a process for seeing each part and practicing the test). The DRA usually comes in a kit, which includes a set of leveled readers (that are only supposed to be used for the purposes of the assessment), teacher guides, training DVD's, and the materials the teacher needs to do the assessment and analyze the results. This comes at a cost of $150 per kit. Let me break this down for you. I work in a school district that has 25 elementary schools. My school, like most in town, ordered two English kits and one Spanish kit for every grade level. Assuming this trend held across the city, the district spent $90,000 at least on purchasing these kits.
I know that school districts have a tendency to throw money in the direction of every fad that comes down the pike, and I have always had my suspicions that this was the case with the DRA. If you're new to the DRA, are here seeking information from someone who has nothing to gain by selling you the kits, or are just curious, let me walk you through my experience and my opinions with this program.
The DRA is a scripted program where the teacher reads certain questions or statements to students, and they respond. The teacher then interprets student answers according to a rubric, and, taken with their fluency score and their miscues, they either score at that level, or need to move up/down depending on their score.
So there's the DRA for you. Now, for me, at the beginning of the year, having already seen my kids work for a few weeks, I thought the DRA gave an inflated view of how the students were actually performing. This is a trend that continued all year long, it wasn't entirely consistent with my own observations or assessments that I used to inform my teaching (you know, REAL assessments).
There are many issues I have with the DRA:
- First of all, I am always hesitant to use scripted programs, they serve mainly to assess learning that serves students well on the standardized test, and I have big problems with this.
- Next, this very expensive program did not give me any information that I could not have gotten by myself, for free, using my own skill as a teacher-researcher (that's a whole other problem itself, the fact that teachers aren't trusted even though they're the experts).
- I also am not a huge fan of pre/mid/post tests, that is, tests that are given only a few times per year, as they really can't serve to be assessments that inform learning and instruction in the short term.
- If you use the test much more often than four or five times a year, students will have seen so many of the leveled readers that it will become invalid.
- There is no student buy-in on this test. I've found that my students aren't interested in the small texts that come with the program, and they don't really feel the connection between the results and them.
- For students above grade level, this test won't serve them after a year or two. I've seen third graders 'max out' the program, which means we can't give it to them in fourth or fifth grade, because they're done.
There are some of my issues with the DRA. I can tell you, quite honestly, that if you really want to assess literacy learning, there are better ways to do it that won't cost you $150 per classroom. That is a ridiculous cost, and for schools to continue to scrape by while spending money on these fad programs just doesn't make sense.