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Visual Assessment Portfolios – A Three-Tier Approach to Primary Assessment

Primary Assessment and Intervention

The Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Ontario Psychological Association, provided school boards with funding to develop programs aimed at increasing educational and professional assessments at the primary level and improving the early literacy skills of at-risk primary students. With this funding, our Board has successfully collaborated with school teams in the creation of a three-tiered approach to primary assessment which allows for different levels of assessment and intervention depending upon the needs of the student. Visual Assessment Portfolios enhances teachers’ existing assessment knowledge and skills and assists teachers in translating assessment results into effective instructional practices. As a result, the number of primary students receiving assessments has increased dramatically, which also includes students with less severe learning difficulties being addressed.

Our team’s development and use of a Visual Assessment Portfolio has facilitated teacher’s ability to identify the learning strengths and needs of high-needs students, effectively group students for differentiated instruction, and link results to classroom programming. Use of the Visual Assessment Portfolios have also supported teacher’s abilities to communicate the literacy achievement of high-needs students to parents and guardians. We will continue to support schools and encourage them to work as a team in collecting and reviewing student assessment information, developing intervention groupings, and implementing strategies based upon student’s learning profiles.

Key Objectives

  • Reduce wait times for students in JK-Grade 4 requiring professional Assessments.
  • Enhance teacher capacity to provide effective programming for students provided with professional assessments.
  • Improve literacy for students provided with professional assessments.
  • Sustain assessment process improvements for the long term.

Three-Tier Approach to Primary Assessment

Students vary in the level of assessment and intervention that they require to see gains in literacy achievement. The three-tier approach to primary assessment involves teachers in the assessment process. Grade two teachers, in collaboration with their school teams, complete Tier One, which includes gathering information on letter name, sound, and whole word knowledge, P.M. Benchmarks, CAT-3 data, and additional relevant background information including Report Cards and IEPs. Members of the Psychology Department, in collaboration with the Speech-Language Department, complete Tier Two and Three of the assessment process. Tier Two involves a screening of high-needs student’s auditory memory and learning skills, visual memory and perceptual skills, and phonological awareness skills. Screening information on language skills and social, emotional, and behavioural functioning is gathered for students with a history of challenges in these areas.

Tier Three is only completed for students with severe learning needs that require a full psychological assessment. The Visual Assessment Portfolio displays the assessment information gathered from all tiers using charts/graphs that highlight the specific strengths and needs of primary students.

Benefits of Professional Collaboration

Professional collaboration with primary teachers and school staff provides opportunities to review and discuss educational assessment data, new and effective intervention strategies, and questions or concerns regarding students’ learning profiles.

During these meetings, Psychology staff members review the Visual Assessment Portfolios created for high-needs students and support school teams in deciding which students may benefit from additional educational testing and/or further professional assessment. Teachers report that networking sessions with Psychology and Speech-Language staff members has expanded their repertoire of educational assessment tools and has enhanced their ability to score and understand the results of data specific to their high-needs students, which is resulting in noticeable improvements in student achievement.

Enhancing Learning

Professional collaboration with grade two teachers enhances their ability to identify students at-risk of developing delays in literacy achievement. Teachers have also been provided with training on new and innovative intervention strategies for students with reading and writing difficulties.


  • The number of primary students receiving an assessment has increased from 17% to 67%.
  • The three-tiered approach to primary assessment has resulted in reduced wait times for professional assessments from approximately 31 months to 10 months. Student’s learning needs are identified earlier and school staff are able to address gaps in literacy achievement before students enter the junior division.
  • More than 90% of the teachers participating in the project reported that they have acquired tremendous professional development from working collaboratively with members of the Special Education department. Teachers also reported that the Visual Assessment Portfolios took some of the “guess-work” out of choosing strategies and making modifications to educational programs within the classroom.
  • Parent feedback indicated that they greatly appreciated the hierarchical approach to assessment, beginning with consultation on classroom–based measures (i.e., Tier One) and only progressing to professional assessment measures when deemed necessary (i.e., Tiers Two and Three).
  • Parents also found the Visual Assessment Portfolio easy to understand and could readily identify their child’s strengths and needs

Ensuring and Supporting Success

  • Primary students with Visual Assessment Portfolios will be tracked to monitor their literacy achievement.
  • Literacy improvements are monitored by repeating administration of educational assessment measures (i.e., Tier One measures), as well as some Board-Wide assessment tools (i.e., CAT-3). Grade 3 and 6 EQAO results for our previously identified high-needs primary students will also be reviewed to ensure improved literacy achievement over time.
  • The Literacy Coaches at the Board and school level will support and facilitate the educational interpretation and utilization of the Visual Assessment Portfolios.
  • Ongoing professional development opportunities will be provided for primary teachers and school teams to review educational assessment measures, to provide information regarding new and effective classroom intervention strategies, and to address any questions that arise.

Sharing with Parents

  • Teachers contact the parents/guardians of students that are struggling with literacy skills (e.g., reading, spelling, writing, etc.) and review the results of educational assessment data that he/she have collected, as well as relevant Board-Wide Assessment information. With parental consent, a member of the psychology team meets with the classroom teacher/school team to review educational data and provide recommendations for classroom programming.
  • If further professional assessment would be beneficial, then parents are contacted by school staff and a member of psychology department to obtain written consent. Explanation of the reasons for further assessment and the types of assessment measures that would be completed are provided.
  • Feedback from parents revealed that the Visual Assessment Portfolios facilitated their understanding of their child’s learning strengths and needs. They also reported that the intervention strategies provided in the feedback sessions were concrete and specific to their child and were often easy to implement in the home environment.