Testing students’ reading levels

iStock_000016876858XSmallEducators at Western Washington University studied a simple test for teachers to use in their classes to quickly and reliably assess students’ reading performance. It identifies children reading at, above, or below grade level; allows teachers to document students’ progress over time; is minimally intrusive to instruction; and provides easy-to-understand information for parents. In the test, students read aloud from a grade-appropriate passage for one minute while the teacher records errors.

Reading fluency is reported as the number of words that a child correctly reads in a minute. This reading rate is important in measuring how quickly and effortlessly a child can process words, which is a key factor in explaining why children struggle to achieve reading proficiency. Without automatic word-processing skills, a child cannot concentrate on comprehending the passage being read.

A measure of reading fluency is easy to construct and requires little training or time to administer and score. Working together, university professors and first- through third-grade teachers in one school district tested the reliability and usefulness of the test. Teachers were trained in the rationale and administration of this oral-reading procedure. A website provided teachers and parents with information about the tests and procedures. A computer program allowed teachers to easily enter and clearly display their results.

At the beginning of the school year, more than 3,300 students read passages from the Multilevel Academic Skills Inventory-Reading test. Schools shared the results with students and parents. Each child’s oral fluency was compared with district and national targets.

In the spring, the second- and third- graders took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Students’ one-minute oral-fluency scores correlated strongly with their scores on the ITBS reading comprehension subtest, confirming the belief that oral-reading fluency screening was a valid and reliable tool and an excellent predictor of performance on high-stakes tests.

Teachers tended to view the oral fluency test favorably, reporting that the data was valuable to them and parents. They could quickly and easily score this test and be confident that it yielded useful information regarding the basic skill proficiency of their students.

The response from parents and the school board was enthusiastic. Many teachers wanted to use this simple test three times a year to track and assess particular students’ progress. While this oral-fluency test will not provide all the information about a child’s reading performance, it serves as a good indicator and a quick way to identify students who need further testing.

“Measuring Reading at Grade Level” Educational Leadership Volume 57, Number 5, February 2000 pp. 25-29.

Published in ERN April 2000 Volume 13 Number 4

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