When we were developing the easyCBM system, we considered the different possible assessment types very carefully.
We wanted to include assessments that had the strongest possible technical adequacy for use as universal screeners and progress monitoring assessments for use in an RTI / Multi-Tiered Systems of Support approach to improving student learning.
We did consider nonsense words as a possible measure, but ultimately decided not to include that measure for two reasons.
1. Dr. Tindal, one of two lead developers of the easyCBM system, who was one of the first to work on CBMs back in his graduate school days at the University of Minnesota, thought it paramount that we consider the ways in which assessments can drive instruction. In his many years researching school and district implementation of CBMs, he had often observed a practice contrary to good instruction. Namely, he observed teachers drilling students on nonsense words. All too often, folks seemed to misunderstand that although a nonsense word assessment can provide relevant information about students’ gaps in recoding / phonics, this does not mean that one should focus students’ instruction on nonsense words. In fact, for the most at risk students (those with significant cognitive disabilities), it is even more essential that instructional time (and memory) not be squandered on information that is not useful in ‘the real world’. For such students, it is even more important that instruction focus on high impact / important words that will help them in their lives.
2. The research on CBMs and screeners/progress monitoring assessments suggests that although nonsense words can add some information to the assessment battery, its inclusion did not actually increase the predictive validity of the other measures of reading that we have included on the easyCBM system: Letter Names, Letter Sounds, Phoneme Segmenting, and Word and Passage Fluency for the youngest students / Passage Reading Fluency, Vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension for the older students.
Our goal with easyCBM is to provide useful and technically adequate assessments that will help guide instructional decision making, not only for identifying students at risk, but also for monitoring the progress those students make as they are provided with targeted instruction specifically designed to address their needs.
As such, we included measures that have a strong empirical foundation and that mimic the type of processing / knowledge / skill students are expected to be working on as they are taught using Evidence Based Practice. We do, however, acknowledge that some teachers / school psychologists may find a measure of nonsense word fluency useful in further diagnosing particular gaps in individual students’ phonological processing / knowledge of phonics.