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10 Apr 2007

Vocabulary Assessment: What We Know and What We Need to Know

P. David Pearson & Elfrieda H. Hiebert, University of California, Berkeley
Michael L. Kamil, Stanford University

Journal Article

Pearson, P.D., Hiebert, E.H., & Kamil, M.L. (2007). Vocabulary assessment: What we know and what we need to know. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(2), pp. 282-296.


After a nearly 15-year absence from center stage, vocabulary has returned to a prominent place in discussions of reading, and it is alive and well in reading instruction and reading research. We have no doubt that the renaissance is due, at least in part, to the salutary findings about vocabulary in the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000) and, even more important, the use of the NRP findings to shape policy and practice via the Reading First component of No Child Left Behind (2002). We regard these developments as positive, for we think there is good reason to teach vocabulary more aggressively and even better reason to study its relation to comprehension more carefully. However, if we are going to teach it more effectively and if we are going to better understand how it is implicated in reading comprehension, we must first address the vexing question of how we assess vocabulary knowledge and, even more challenging, vocabulary growth. In this essay, we argue that vocabulary assessment is grossly undernourished, both in its theoretical and practical aspects—that it has been driven by tradition, convenience, psychometric standards, and a quest for economy of effort rather than a clear conceptualization of its nature and relation to other aspects of reading expertise, most notably comprehension. We hope that our essay will serve as one small step in providing the nourishment it needs.