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Screening and Assessment

Learn more about the four types of reading assessments: universal screeners, diagnostic tests, progress monitoring tools, and summative assessments. It’s important to begin by asking yourself: “What do I want to know about my students? What do I want to assess?”

On this page:

Formal and informal assessments

How do teachers know what skills to target for classroom reading instruction? Schools use a range of formal and informal tests to measure progress and plan instruction and intervention

Formal tests are standardized with a norm group or established benchmarks so you can compare a student’s results to peers. Formal tests require following specific directions and steps. They give an objective, precise view of reading performance. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (opens in a new window) and the Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE) (opens in a new window) are two examples of formal tests used by some schools. 

Informal tests are more flexible and provide a holistic view of a student’s reading. They do not have a norm group, so you can’t compare one student’s score to another. Informal tests can be observation checklists, informal reading inventories, teacher-made tests to name a few. One example of an informal reading test is the Qualitative Reading Inventory 7  (opens in a new window) (Leslie & Caldwell, 2021). 

What do I want to know about my students?

There are different informal assessment tools for assessing various components of reading. It’s important to ask yourself: “What do I want to know about my students? What do I want to assess?” Reading Basics: Assessment

4 types of MTSS assessments

Within a MTSS framework, there are four types of reading assessments: universal screeners, diagnostic tests, progress monitoring tools, and summative assessments. Using formal and informal tools help schools determine who needs extra help, plan instruction, monitor growth, and evaluate program success. 

Universal screeners

Universal screeners are tests that are given 1-3 times a year to a class, grade, or even an entire school to check for potential reading difficulties. Students who fail to meet a school’s established criteria may be at risk for reading problems or eligible for additional reading support.

Diagnostic assessments 

Diagnostic assessments identify a student’s specific strengths and weaknesses in reading, for example, phonics or vocabulary skills. Diagnostic tests provide a detailed profile of the student’s needs to guide intervention. Diagnostic tests are given after a student fails a screener and may be repeated as often as needed by the teacher to find out more about the student’s reading skills. 

Progress monitoring tools 

Progress monitoring tools measure a student’s progress throughout instruction and  intervention. They may be given weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly depending  on the intensity of intervention and needs of the student. Progress monitoring tools report the student’s growth in reading and help the teacher to adjust instruction.

Summative assessments 

Summative assessments are used to evaluate student performance at the end of an instructional period or school year. Two examples of summative assessments could be an end of unit test for a grade’s reading program or taking a state’s required reading test. Summative tests measure a student’s overall reading performance and effectiveness of the school’s reading program.  


Research-based screeners and assessment tools

Most schools have a plethora of assessments they are using to check oral language, alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing. Here are some common tools used to assess student performance. 

Universal screening tools

Here are a few widely used universal screening tools for reading instruction:

The effectiveness of any screening tool will depend on how it is used and the context in which it is applied. Most schools have a test and times for screening all students. Consult with a reading specialist or literacy coach before choosing and administering a screening tool.

Diagnostic and progress monitoring tools

Many of the universal screening tools have additional subtests to diagnose reading problems and monitor student progress. Here are a few common tools used to diagnose (D) and/or monitor (PM)  student reading. Note that some formal normed diagnostic tests can also be used for summative assessment (Sum

Choosing a diagnostic or progress monitoring test depends on the age, grade, and the specific needs of the student to determine which reading skills to assess. Work with your school’s reading specialist or a literacy coach to select the most appropriate diagnostic and progress monitoring tests for your students.   

Descriptions and reviews of popular reading assessments 

The National Center on Intensive Intervention offers a comprehensive review of screening and progress monitoring tools: 

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