In a society that is becoming increasingly wary of academic testing, it may not be popular to say that reading assessments are vital. They are, however, the most accurate way to determine a student's specific reading level and identify problems with decoding, fluency or comprehension skills. Unpopular though they may be, oral reading assessments and reading comprehension assessments can help teachers target their instruction and be more effective in the classroom.
Reading, at a basic level, consists of deciphering groups of letters and recognizing words. This skill is known as "decoding." Inside the classroom, teachers most commonly assess decoding skills with oral sight word lists. Teachers may also use nonsense word lists to assess whether a student can decipher groups of letters in unfamiliar words. A more formal test is the norm-referenced Woodcock Johnson, 3rd Edition -- specifically, the word attack and word recognition subtests.
Reading fluently means a student can quickly and accurately read a passage out loud with the correct intonation and phrasing. Inside the classroom, teachers assess this skill with oral reading passages such as Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy -- DIBELS -- passages. A more formal assessment of fluency is the Gray Oral Reading Test. The GORT is an oral, standardized test that assesses fluency and comprehension through reading passages and questions.
The ultimate goal of reading is to be able to comprehend the information that is presented. Comprehension is most commonly assessed in the classroom with passage reading and then oral or written comprehension questions. A more formal assessment is the Test of Reading Comprehension, 4th Edition -- or TORC-4. This standardized test focuses only on comprehension skills and silent reading. Subtests assess individual skills and vocabulary comprehension for particular academic areas, such as mathematics vocabulary.
Cumulative data are used to track progress and recognize patterns. When managed correctly, semester and year-long reading fluency logs and student reading portfolios can highlight areas of continuing need. For example, a portfolio containing a semester of oral sight-word assessments might indicate that a student struggles with the vowel blend "ai," whereas one single assessment would show only one or two missed words. Online tracking programs are available to teachers in most districts.
Based in Sacramento, Calif., Beth Wenbourne Katz has been writing about education topics since 2006. Katz has taught in the California public schools, working primarily with students with learning, behavioral and emotional challenges. She holds a Master of Arts in special education from San Diego State University.