Getting the Most from Reading Assessments

Learn everything you possibly can about your readers!

Beginning of the year reading assessments are kind of a double-edged sword. We learn A LOT about our new students as readers from them, but they can take a ton of time. In this post, I share assessment tips that will help you get the most out of the time you spend giving and scoring these tests, as well as some next steps ideas for what to do with the information you get.

First, let me define what I’m talking about when I say reading assessments here. I’m not talking about computerized or other diagnostics, like Dibels. I’m talking about an assessment where you’ll take a reading/running record, attend to fluency, and ask the child comprehension questions.

First, Think: What are You Assessing For?

This is the big question to always keep in mind. While there is, of course, a mathematical component to these to determine where a child falls, the math is not the important part. What’s important is to learn as much as you can about your readers–as whole readers–so that you can determine where to guide them in your instruction. We assess so that we truly use the information–and it goes well beyond just determining a reading level.

Let’s take a look at each main component of these assessments.

Before you begin

First, there’s always always a part where the child will read aloud to you. But before you even get to that, take note–what is the students’ attitude toward reading? Ask them a couple of questions about their reading life as a way to warm them up and glean valuable information: do they like to read? Do they read at home? How often? Does someone in their life read to them? Do they have any favorite books?

These questions can be asked anytime–as you’re walking together to the spot where you’ll conduct the assessment, in the hallway on the way to the playground, as kids are packing up for dismissal, and during informal reading conferences, for example. The point isn’t when you ask about their reading life; the point is that you ask, period.

A child’s demeanor toward books and reading is very important to know. If you’re familiar with Jennifer Seravallo’s hierarchy of reading skills, engagement is at the very top. Meaning, if a child isn’t an engaged reader, it’ll be a difficult road ahead–for both the child and for you.

During Reading: The Reading Record (AKA the Running Record)

These are very largely the same. A running record is the coding that is done on a blank sheet of paper or template as a child reads aloud. A reading record is the same thing, but the words are preprinted for you.

There’s so much more to this than just just jotting the miscues here. Be sure you’re capturing everything:

  • words they try to decode–and how they approach it
  • concerns, like eyes leaving text to search for picture clues
  • when they need to slow down to stretch a word
  • what they comment about
  • when they reread to fix
  • when they look to you and/or appeal for help
  • the self-talk they might do (as in “no, that doesn’t make sense,” “huh?”)
  • any and every attempt to figure out an unknown word

But wait! There’s More!

That’s not all, though. As they read, it’s also important to pay attention to fluency. I like to draw little “scoops–” curved lines under the text (or tic marks) on my record to show how many words are phrased at once. I also like to show missed or inserted punctuation, as this all affects fluency. And, I write quick notes about their expression, stress, and intonation.

Professor and literacy expert Dr. Tim Rasinski says the “fluency is the bridge to comprehension,” and he could not be more spot on. This is often the missing link between reading the words on a page and strong comprehension, so it becomes very important to pay attention to.

This is why, around a level D, I stop making tic marks above each word a child reads on a reading record. It’s obvious whether 1:1 correspondence is in place or not, because any omissions or insertions would reflect this. Making those tic marks is unnecessary, and it frees me up to be able to jot fluency notes.

But that’s still not all.

All along the way, continue jotting reading behaviors. Do they continue to whisper read, even after the oral reading component is over? After about first grade, this should no longer be necessary. Does their rate stay consistent? Do they ignore text features? Do they react to the text in any way? Do they apply reading strategies on their own?

All of these are very important pieces of the puzzle–but if you don’t jot it all down, you will not remember–and therefore your subsequent teaching will not be as effective.

After the reading

When you ask the child comprehension questions, take careful notes! I like to try to capture as verbatim as possible what they say, and continue to jot behavior notes here (looking back at the text, looks of confusion, other comments they might add).

Nearly verbatim notes help me tremendously when I score later–I almost never have time on the spot to score; I’d rather spend the next minutes completing another assessment for another child. Writing it all down avoids any assumptions and any doubt, because the child’s train of thought is right there on the page.

And finally…

The best part–scoring and analyzing. Because you’ve taken such careful notes on every aspect you could: accuracy, fluency, comprehension, and reading behaviors, you will have a wealth of information to help you plan lessons that are tailored to your students’ needs, both whole group, like shared and interactive writing, and small group.

With all this information at your fingertips, you will be able to know exactly what to teach your students–across many aspects of reading–to truly meet them where they are in order to help them grow to their fullest potential!

Want some help analyzing your reading assessments or figuring out how to use all the information? Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together! And, join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!

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Related posts: Why You Need to Do Shared and Interactive Writing, MSV Explained [and why it’s so misunderstood], Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later, To Level or Not to Level?

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