Skip to main content

One of my very favorite kindergarten teachers emailed me last week with the following question:

I have a Big Question for you. How would you assess fluency in kindergarten? Where would you begin? With letter names or beginning sounds or word lists? Or would you wait until a student is reading passages? If you would recommend assessing fluency in kindergarten, what tool(s) would you use?

I am struggling with what is appropriate for kindergartners … and what will result in meaningful information that will help me plan instruction. I’m sure you know that we are in the midst of assessing/documenting student progress using rubrics that reflect growth from fall to spring.

If you have time, I would love to talk with you. If not, would you recommend some sources I can research? Many thanks!

And my response:

To assess fluency in kindergarten, I’d be most concerned with letter naming and letter sounds — whether a child’s answers come easily and without confusion or do they come after much thinking and reflection. That’s a pretty qualitative way to think about it, but I think that sort of information, in conjunction with an overall PALS score (opens in a new window) [NOTE: PALS is the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening tool used in Virginia], yields the best information. If a student is reading, I like Tim Rasinski’s fluency rubric (opens in a new window). The descriptors are written in plain language, and it breaks fluency into meaningful pieces. It considers fluency for the youngest kids, but moves into fluent, instructional level readers. Word lists can be helpful too, for those who come into kindergarten reading. The ones that come with the PALS assessment are trustworthy and well-researched.

At Reading Rockets, we recently launched Start with a Book (opens in a new window), and one section of it is about Fluent Kids (opens in a new window). It’s geared mainly to parents, but you might find some useful resources there as well.

Some teachers use letter and sound charts to provide speed practice with their kindergarten kids (see this page (opens in a new window) as an example). Frankly I’m not sure how I feel about this practice, as I think it sends a message that “all speed is good speed” when it comes to letters. But, if you wanted to use them occasionally, that link gives you some good resources.

So, to sum it up, I don’t think you need to wait until they’re reading to assess a K child’s fluency. I think fluency on some of the precursor measures (letters, sounds, word lists) is a strong proxy for how they’ll be as readers. Does that help? I hope so!

Let me know if there we can explore. For example, it may be helpful to think about where first graders should be by the winter in terms of words correct per minute (WCPM). The standard most educators use is Hasbrouck & Tindal’s norms, which suggest that first graders at the 50th percentile will be reading 23 WCPM and kids in the 90th percentile will be reading at 81 WCPM. That’s quite a span!

Hope you’re having a great summer!

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
July 25, 2012