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It’s report card time!  Another school year is coming to a close and teachers are busy conducting year-end reading assessments.

These year-end assessments are often summative and used as a measure against beginning-year assessments to determine how far each of our students has progressed along the reading continuum established for their particular grade. 

Our strong readers will most likely have moved forward at a steady pace, our striving readers may or may not have moved as far along as we would have hoped. 

Information from these year-end assessments are often included in final report cards to parents as well as provided to receiving teachers in the fall. They are not meant to inform our instruction as it is the end of the school year (by mid June, we are nearing, if not crossing the instructional finish line!)

Beginning-year reading assessments and assessments we conduct throughout the year, however, have a completely different purpose.  They are considered formative and used to inform our practice and guide our instruction.  Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, authors of The Daily Five, said it best:  “I don’t know how you can teach kids until you know what they know”.  In other words, purposeful reading assessments are the foundation of an effective reading program. 

Reading assessments should not only be used to determine what mark, reading level, or reading group a child may be in, but to help a teacher be responsive to the specific reading skills their students need. Simply put, assessments should help you: “Find the gaps, so you can fill the gaps!”  

Our Goal:

Arguably, the most important skill children will learn in elementary school is how to read.  Reading proficiency can be defined as mastering two skill sets and applying them simultaneously:  the ability to recognize the words (either through decoding or automatic recognition)  and the ability to understand the words.  Both code and comprehension, or “book reading” and “brain reading” as I like to refer to them, require explicit, structured, scaffolded instruction.  (See chart below for specific skills.) 

  Reading Proficiency Skills 

Elementary teachers collectively have the same goal: that every child walks out of their class a more proficient reader than when they walked in. But without any measure or tracking of their reading progress throughout the year, it is difficult to determine whether that goal has been met. 

One Small Problem

In order to reach our goal of helping each student move towards reading proficiency, we can use a “one size fits all” approach to teach grade appropriate code and comprehension skills to the class and they will all learn to read. Simple, right?  Except for one small problem: diversity.  

Every child develops reading skills at different times and in different ways – they always have and always will.  No teacher will ever have a class of children who are all reading at the same level.  It simply doesn’t exist. There are countless factors that impact the reading development of a child including: their birth month, language and speech development when they enter kindergarten, whether their parents read to them before they started kindergarten, whether they attended pre-school, and whether they have older siblings.  

We NEED Reading Assessments

Reading assessments help us:

  • determine where each student is on their reading journey 
  • identify specific reading skills each student needs to help them move forward on their reading journey 
  • be responsive and identify “next step” lessons to target the skills the students need (either through whole class or small group instruction) 
  • Teach the child, not the curriculum  

The Competition: 

Purposeful assessment and responsive reading instruction has some “shiny” competition, namely Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest.  These “grab and go” sites tempt teachers with endless numbers of “shiny objects”.  Now, there is nothing wrong with the occasional glitter and glam of these lessons, but the short term gain they provide do little to support long-term responsive reading instruction. 

One could literally fill an entire year, “looking up” and grabbing shiny objects without ever “looking down” to see what our students actually need to improve their reading skills. Being responsive means “looking down” at your students.  They are the shiny objects we need to be paying attention to.   

Recent Changes

Formal reading assessments conducted over the past decade often included some form of running records, miscue analysis, WCPM (Words Correct Per Minute), and comprehension.  With a recent push towards research on how the brain makes sense of print, questions have come to light regarding the effectiveness of using running records and the lack of specific information they provide. (Personally, I found all those miscue codes very confusing and not very helpful!)  

Like many of you, I often conducted traditional reading assessments in order to identify which reading level my students were reading at.  Guided reading groups were then organized by these reading levels.  Reflecting on this process now, I realize that I may not have been as responsive as I could have been. 

Running records do not always tell the whole story.  For example, I may have 7 students in my class reading at level M, but they may not all have the same needs: three may be strong decoders, but need support with comprehension, two may read without expression or phrasing, and one might be unable to retell the main idea.  Looking back, I realize that grouping my students according to reading level was far less effective than grouping according to reading skills they need.  

A Simple Guide to Reading Assessments

Teachers are now beginning to explore alternative assessment tools.  As well as the more formal reading assessments conducted at the beginning and end of the year, it’s also important that we do regular reading check in’s.  While there are many to choose from, the most effective way to determine what reading skills a child needs is simply to listen to them read.  This can be done in person during school time, or through a “Listen In” or play back features available through digital reading platforms such as SimbiStudents can read aloud to you from a guided reading book or fluency passage.    

STEP 1 – Listen to the student read aloud.  Pay attention.  Record observations.

While you listen and follow along with the passage, pay attention to the student’s decoding skills, fluency skills and comprehension skills. Below are some questions to consider to help guide your observations during and after listening to a student read.  Use this Reading Assessment Checklist to help track your observations.  

DECODING  What does the child do when they encounter unknown words?  Do they… 
– Apply appropriate phonics strategies? (i.e. do they know their initial consonant sounds? vowel sounds? CVC words?
– Make an attempt to sound out the word?
– Use clues or cues?
– Skip the word or stop reading altogether?
– Appeal for help?
FLUENCY How does the child sound when they read aloud?  Do they…
– Pay attention to punctuation marks or read through them?
– Use proper phrasing?  
– Read at a natural pace? too fast? too slow? 
– Read with expression and intonation? 
COMPREHENSION Is the child reading for meaning?  Can they..
– Make a prediction based on the cover and title? 
– Retell the story in their own words? 
– Make a connection to the story?
– Ask a question about the story?
– Describe a part that “sticks in their head”? 

STEP 2 – Create a Class Reading Profile. 

Once you have listened to every child read, use this  Class Reading Profile, to immediately  record each student’s strengths and struggles. (I recommend recording the information immediately following the assessment, while it’s fresh in your mind.) Below is a sample excerpt from a grade 2 class reading profile.  Notice how the first two students are reading at the same level have different needs and have been placed in different reading groups.  

STEP 3 – Analyze and Respond

Once your Class Reading Profile is complete, it can be analyzed and used for the following:  identifying class trends, flagging any striving readers who may need extra support, making any necessary adjustments to your needs-based reading groups, helping you target your instruction to the reading skills the students in your class need most, and planning for next-step lessons.  These lessons may be applicable for the entire class or be better suited for small group instruction.  

Below are some examples of observations and corresponding lessons:

ObservationsNext Step Lessons
reads through punctuation, doesn’t stop at periods·        explain the purpose of a period (tiny stop sign lesson) Use red “sticky dots” to model
unable to make a connection to the story·        review and model making connections and how connecting helps readers understand a story better
retell includes far too many details.·        introduce the “Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then” strategy for summarizing. 
  struggles with blends “th”, “ch”, “sh”·        review common blends and practice on white board (McKracken)

Final thoughts

Responsive reading instruction begins and ends with purposeful, formative assessment.  As you begin the process of your year end reading assessments to find out how your students progressed this year, use this opportunity to reflect on your own practice. One could argue that beginning-of-the-year assessments look at the students’ progress; end-of-year assessments look at ours. 

Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves at the end of the year is NOT “How well did my students do?” but “How well did I do?  How well did I help each of my students develop the specific reading skills they needed to move forward on their own reading journey towards proficiency?”  

Reading Assessment Support from Simbi

Simbi is a global reading platform whose mission is to help students read more books more often.  Simbi offers an amazing library of books and an engaging, interactive reading journey.  Readers can choose to read along, narrate, or read silently.  So how does Simbi support responsive reading instruction and purposeful assessment?   

Fluency Passages:  Simbi offers a wide range of fluency passages for grades  K through 7 and levels for teachers to assign for individual reading assessments.  There are two fiction and two nonfiction passages for each reading level. 

Listen In” feature:  After a student narrates a story or fluency passage on the Simbi platform,  teachers can listen in using the “Listen In” feature.   The best part of this feature is the flexibility it provides.  We can’t always find the time to listen to our students read during class time, but with the Simbi Listen In feature, you can listen to your students read from the comfort of your own home.  

Watch a recording of my webinar where I share all about the the why’s and how’s of effective reading assessment HERE


About the Author Adrienne Gear

Adrienne is a teacher, author and speaker from Vancouver, BC She has over 25 years of elementary teaching experience and has written seven professional books for elementary teachers in the area of reading, writing, and thinking. Adrienne is also a Literacy and Learning advisor with the Simbi Read for Good platform. She is a well-sought after speaker and speaks to educators across the country and around the world. She is passionate about reading, children’s literature, and all things west coast. Adrienne currently lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband and their dog.

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