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The Debrief

Why ELA Quizzes?

Jennifer Merriman, PhD
Feb 13, 2020

Educators know that classes are filled with readers at many different levels. 

With this in mind, each Newsela article is instructionalized to be readable at five reading levels, based on text complexity as measured by Lexile. This allows all students in a class to read the same content, which enables teachers to more effectively structure classroom learning. After students read, teachers need a way to quickly and reliably assess students’ comprehension so that they can decide where to focus discussion on passages in the text that may need further explanation or re-reading. Conversations and writing samples both work well, and as a complement to these, a simple multiple-choice quiz is an efficient, effective way to quickly gauge understanding. 

Each article on Newsela has an associated quiz at each of its five levels, with each question aligned to a single Common Core ELA Anchor Reading Standard. Across the five levels, the quiz-standard alignment remains the same, with each quiz covering the same two anchor standards (e.g. “identifying central idea” or “what the text says.”) This lightweight formative assessment shows district administrators that the content is delivered at an appropriate reading level, and saves teachers time in creating and aligning questions. Additionally, quizzes provide students practice with academic tasks and concepts, including describing cause and effect, interpreting and making connections between ideas, expressing and supporting opinions, vocabulary in context, sentence structure, and more.

Nearly 17 million students have taken at least one quiz, and more than 150 million quizzes have been taken to date. The vast majority of quizzes (70 percent!) have been taken by students in grades 5-8. 

The Learning Science of Quizzes

When students take quizzes on articles at their reading level, they should experience more success. When students experience success in turn, they often feel more competent and and have higher self-efficacy. (1)

According to Flow Theory, students are optimally motivated when their perceived level of skill matches the perceived challenge in a situation. (2) In other words, students get completely absorbed in a task when the work feels “just right”. 

Conversely, students’ motivation drops when skill and challenge are mismatched. (3) For example, if a task is difficult but a student’s skill is low, they may feel anxious. If the task is easy and the student’s skill is high, they get bored.

In this way, quizzes serve to create that feedback loop by enabling teachers and students to calibrate the level of the text to the student's reading level. Once that is achieved, students will feel more competent, which can lead them into a flow state and avoid drops in motivation from encountering a text that is either too hard or too easy.

As a lightweight formative assessment, quizzes give students a quick check for understanding and help teachers shape ongoing lessons, adapting instruction to meet student needs. (4) Quizzes provide immediate results so teachers can make adjustments while the kids are still in the classroom.

How can you use Newsela ELA Quizzes to:

  • Provide personalized and targeted instruction to students using on-going quiz scores?

  • Prompt engaging, meaningful discussions using quiz questions as a starting point?

  • Encourage collaboration amongst students as they evaluate and review quiz questions

1.  Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.


2.  Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers.


3. Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Schneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2014). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. In Applications of flow in human development and education (pp. 475-494). Springer, Dordrecht.

4. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability (formerly: Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education), 21(1), 5. Bennett, R. E. (2011). Formative assessment: A critical review. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 18(1), 5-25.

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