Maybe you’ve volunteered to teach English to immigrants in your community or tutor a teen in reading. Perhaps you are concerned about your child’s reading ability and want to determine if you need to seek professional help for your child. In all of these cases, you need an easy way to take a reading assessment.
Reading assessments are the first thing you should do before you begin teaching or seeking additional help. Don’t make assumptions about someone’s ability. Discover. The answer gives you the starting point for your instruction. Successful teaching of reading depends on developing previously learned skills. If you leave out essential steps in the chain, it will be difficult for students to jump from where they are to where you are trying to start them.
Reading levels. Determining your student’s reading level will guide you in selecting teaching materials if you are working as an English tutor. It will also help you work with your school district to further help your child.
There are three levels of reading:
Independent: The student can read with ease, accuracy, and confidence. The student should be able to correctly pronounce all the words at this level.
Instructions: The student makes some mistakes but can still read most of the material.
Frustration: The student struggles, makes frequent mistakes, 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, use vocabulary and spelling worksheets that reinforce the new vocabulary introduced in the reading instructional level. This approach builds confidence, reinforces the lesson, and adequately prepares the student for the next session.
Reading aloud test. The easiest way to assess reading level is to take a simple read-aloud test. You can use a reading test available online such as the Reading Proficiency Test sponsored by The National Right to Read Foundation. The test comes with instructions for administering, scoring, 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 such as Microsoft “WORD” and running the spell check tool. When the spell checker finishes, a summary appears. At the bottom of the summary is the Fleisch-Kincaid grade level score. This score is equivalent to the grade level of 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 out loud. The level at which the student makes more than one error for every twenty words will be the Instructional Level.
Phonetics survey. Reading is a process of decoding written symbols that represent sounds. Reading is a complete mystery if the student does not understand which symbols represent which sounds. This decoding system is not something that people absorb, they must be taught. You can quickly assess a student’s understanding of phonics by doing the following:
Write each set of nonsense words below on a separate card.
TIF NEL ROM (Easy Consonants)
DUP CAV SEB (short vowels)
KO HOAB WAJE (Hard Consonants)
ZEEX QUIDE YAIG (Long Vowels)
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 them. Note whether the student pronounced all the words perfectly, knew some, or knew none. Anything less than a perfect score indicates that more phonics instruction is needed. A score of “Knew something” indicates the starting point for instruction. Although I have noted the phonics level in parentheses next to each line, the card the student reads should only include the nonsense words.
Reading comprehension tests. Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. If you can pronounce all the words in the correct order, but don’t know what they mean collectively, you can’t 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 that explore the following aspects of the passage:
Details in the passage.
Timeline questions. (What happened first? What happened next? When did this happen?)
True and false questions.
What is the main idea of the passage?
Once you know the area of comprehension that a reader is lacking, you can make that area the primary focus during the tutoring session.
If you are concerned about your child’s progress in reading and simple assessments point to a possible problem, begin to resolve the problem by first talking with your child’s teacher. Teachers know that there are many obstacles 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, etc. Most schools today have reading specialists on staff to help uncover the reasons a student is falling behind. It is important to advocate for your child as soon as you suspect a problem. Students can quickly fall behind, and reading skills affect all subjects. Get help right away.
So there you have it, simple 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 starting point and can help you discern if your student needs more professional help.