How to Do a Simple Reading Assessment

Perhaps you have volunteered to teach English to immigrants in your community or tutor a teenager in reading. Maybe you are concerned about your child's reading capability and want to determine whether you need to seek professional help for her. In all of these cases, you need a simple way to perform a reading assessment.

Reading assessments are the first thing to do before you start teaching or searching for additional help. Do not make assumptions about someone's ability. Find out. The answer gives you the starting point for your instruction. Successful reading instruction depends on building upon previously learned skills. If you skip essential steps in the chain, students have a difficult time leaping from where they are to where you try to start them.

Reading Levels. Determining your student's reading level will guide you in selecting teaching material if you are working as an English language tutor. It will also aid you in working with your school district to further assist your child.

There are three reading levels.

The student can easily, accurately, and confidently read. The student should be able to correctly pronounce all words at this level.
The student makes some errors but can still read most of the material.
The student struggles, makes frequent errors, and shows symptoms of nervousness or dislike of the task.

Use instructional level materials during tutoring sessions and assign independent level reading material for homework. For homework assignments use vocabulary and spelling worksheets that reinforce the new vocabulary introduced in the instructional level reading. This approach builds confidence, reinforces the lesson, and properly prepares the student for the next session.

Read-Aloud Test. The easiest way to assess reading level is to do a simple read-aloud test. You can use a reading test available online like the Reading Competency Test sponsored by The National Right to Read Foundation. The test comes with instructions for administering it, grading it, and interpreting the results.

Alternatively, you can present your student with six or seven paragraphs of 25 to 50 words. Each paragraph should be a different grade level. You can determine the grade level by entering the paragraph into a word processor like Microsoft "WORD" and running the spell-check tool. At the conclusion of the spell-check, a summary appears. At the bottom of the summary is the Fleisch-Kincaid Grade Level score. This score is equivalent to the school grade level of the writing. So, if the score is 1.5, it means a first grader should be able to read that material. Have your student read the material aloud. The level at which the student makes more than one mistake for every twenty words will be the Instructional Level.

Phonics Survey. Reading is a process of decoding written symbols which represent sounds. Reading is a complete mystery if the student does not understand what symbols represent which sounds. This decoding system is not something people absorb, they must be taught. You can rapidly assess a student's understanding of phonics by doing the following:

Print each set of nonsense words below on a separate card.

Card 1.
TIF  NEL  ROM    (Easy Consonants)
DUP  CAV  SEB    (Short Vowels)

Card 2.
KO  HOAB  WAJE    (Hard Consonants)
ZEEX  QUIDE  YAIG    (Long Vowels)

Card 3.
WHAW  THOIM  PHER    (Consonant Digraphs)
OUSH  CHAU  EANG    (Difficult Vowels)

You will have three cards, each with six words. Explain to the student that you are going to show him a card with made-up words and you want him to pronounce those words. Note whether the student perfectly pronounced all the words, knew some, or knew none. Anything less than a perfect score indicates more phonics instruction is needed. A "Knew some" score indicates the starting point for instruction. Although I have noted the phonics level in parentheses next to each line, the card the student reads from should only include the nonsense words.

Reading Comprehension Tests. Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. If you can pronounce all of the words in the correct order, but you do not know what they collectively mean, you can not read. There are reading comprehension tests and worksheets available online (search "reading comprehension test printables"). If you wish, you can make them yourself by providing short reading passages at appropriate reading levels. Next, ask questions which explore the following aspects of the passage:

  • Details in the passage.
  • Timeline questions. (What happened first? What happened next? When did this take place?)
  • True and false questions.
  • What is the main idea of the passage?

  • Once you know the area of comprehension a reader has not mastered, you can make that area the main focus during the tutoring session.

    If you are concerned about your child's progress in reading and the simple assessments point to a possible problem, begin solving the problem by first talking to your child's teacher. Teachers know many stumbling blocks present themselves when a student is learning to read. A student may need glasses, or have dyslexia. They may not have been taught phonics or may have missed critical lessons due to absences from school, and so on. Most schools today have Reading Specialists on staff to help uncover the reasons why a student is falling behind. It is important to advocate for your child as soon as you suspect a problem. Students can fall behind quickly and reading skills affect all subjects. Get help right away.

    So there you have it, straightforward information on how to assess someone's reading ability. Of course, it doesn't make you an expert reading teacher, but it gives you a place to start and can help you discern if your student needs more professional assistance.

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