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Assessment: Intro

Assessment: In Practice

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Learn what you are measuring with each literacy skill assessment, the age or grade when a skill should be mastered, and when during the school year you should administer the assessments. You’ll also find sample assessment questions.

Universal screening

Universal screening should happen three times a year a year in the primary grades, using an assessment that is criterion and norm-referenced, valid, predictive, and reliable to determine the path of each child’s reading development. One example is the University of Oregon’s free assessment tool, DIBELS (opens in a new window). This assessment tool is also available for children learning to read in Spanish: IDELS (opens in a new window).

With universal screening, students who are at risk for reading difficulties can then be flagged for diagnostic assessments and given the critical early intervention that will help them overcome their specific difficulties.

Students should not leave the primary grades with word-reading difficulties. In her 2020 article, What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do (opens in a new window), reading expert Louisa Moats says:

Researchers now estimate that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read by the end of first grade, with future achievement constrained only by students’ reasoning and listening comprehension abilities.

Print awareness assessment

Concepts of print are usually learned incidentally as children are exposed to books and story readings at home and at school. Concepts of print include an understanding that print carries meaning and that books contain letters, words, sentences, and spaces. It also includes an understanding of what books are used for and that books have parts such as a front cover, back cover, and spine.

Students gradually learn more sophisticated ideas such as understanding that we begin reading on the left, read across the page to the last word on the right, and then we go to the next line and begin reading on the left.

What it measures

If a student understands:

  • That print has meaning
  • That print can be used for different purposes
  • The relationship between print and speech
  • There is a difference between letters and words
  • That words are separated by spaces
  • There is a difference between words and sentences
  • That there are punctuation marks that signal the end of a sentence
  • That books have parts such as a front and back cover, title page, and spine
  • That stories have a beginning, middle, and end
  • That text is read from left to right and from top to bottom

Examples of assessment questions

Give the student a book and ask the following questions:

Can you show me:

  • A letter
  • A word
  • A sentence
  • The end of a sentence (punctuation mark)
  • The front of the book
  • The back of the book
  • Where I should start reading the story
  • A space
  • How I should hold the book
  • The title of the book
  • How many words are in this sentence

Age or grade typically mastered

Some students enter kindergarten with an understanding of print concepts, but others will master it as the school year goes on.

When should it be assessed?

Assess concepts of print twice during kindergarten, at the start of school and at mid-year. In addition, as you model story reading techniques to help guide instruction, identify students who need additional support, and determine if the pace of instruction should be increased, decreased, or remain the same.

Printable assessment template: Concepts of Print

Assessment of a pre-reader

Letter/sound recognition assessment

What it measures

Letter/sound recognition assessment measures the ability to recognize letters and sounds. Knowing the letters of the alphabet is essential in developing reading skills. Instruction should be geared toward the letters and sounds that students don’t know. Students should be able to recognize the letters in both uppercase and lowercase forms.

Examples of assessment questions

Show student one letter at a time and ask:

  • Can you tell me what letter this is? (Record response)
  • Can you tell me what sound it makes? (Record response)

Age or grade typically mastered

Many students enter kindergarten with the ability to recognize letters. Fewer students know the letter sounds. Both are taught in kindergarten.

When should it be assessed?

Assess letter/sound recognition three times during kindergarten at the start of school, at mid-year, and at the end of the year.

Printable assessment template: Letter/Sound Recognition

An early elementary assessment

Phonological awareness assessment

What it measures

  • Recognizing a word in a sentence shows the ability to segment a sentence.
  • Recognizing a rhyme shows the ability to identify words that have the same ending sounds.
  • Recognizing a syllable shows the ability to separate or blend words the way that they are pronounced.
  • Understanding onset-rime shows the ability to blend the first sound in the word (onset) and the rest of the word (rime).

Examples of assessment questions


  • How many words are in this sentence? “I am happy.” (Correct response: three)


  • Do these words rhyme? “Big, Fig” (Correct response: Yes)
  • What about “Key, Tree?” (Correct response: Yes)

Syllable blending

  • I am going to say a word in parts. Listen: o… pen. What word did I say? (Correct response: open)

Syllable segmentation

  • Can you tell me the two word parts in “open?” (Correct response: o… pen)

Syllable deletion

  • Say open without the -pen. (Correct response: o)


  • What word do these sounds make? /s/ – /ee/ (Correct response: see)
  • How about /h/ – /op/? (Correct response: hop)

Age or grade typically mastered

  • Word: Age 3
  • Rhyme: Age 4
  • Syllable blending: Age 4
  • Syllable segmentation: Kindergarten
  • Syllable deletion: Kindergarten
  • Onset-rime: Middle of kindergarten

When should it be assessed?

Typically, phonological awareness is assessed during kindergarten and throughout first grade. During kindergarten, assessment should generally be limited to recognizing words, recognizing rhymes, blending syllables, and segmenting syllables.

Printable assessment template: Phonological/Phonemic Awareness: Rhyming

PAST: The Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) (opens in a new window) is a widely used informal diagnostic tool that helps you evaluate 14 separate aspects of phonological awareness.

An early elementary assessment

For helpful tips on administering phonological and phonemic awareness assessments, watch the second half of the video clip below, beginning at 3:35.

Phonemic awareness assessment

What it measures

  • Phoneme matching, the ability to identify words that begin with the same sound
  • Phoneme isolation, the ability to isolate a single sound from within a word
  • Phoneme blending, the ability to blend individual sounds into a word
  • Phoneme segmentation, the ability to break a word into individual sounds
  • Phoneme manipulation, the ability to modify, change, or move the individual sounds in a word

Examples of assessment questions

Remember, when a letter appears between slash marks, you should say the letter sound, and not the letter name. See Module 2: Phonological and Phonemic Awareness (In Practice) to review the letter sounds. You can also view this chart of the 44 sounds (phonemes) of English.

Phoneme matching

  • Which words start with the same sound? man, sat, sip (Correct response: sat, sip)

Phoneme isolation – initial (first) sound

  • What’s the first sound in sat(Correct response: /s/)

Phoneme isolation – final (last) sound

  • What’s the last sound in sat? (Correct response: /t/)

Phoneme isolation – medial (middle) sound

  • What’s the middle sound in sat(Correct response: /a/)

Phoneme blending

  • What word do these sounds make? /h/ – /o/ – /t/ (Correct response: hot)

Phoneme segmentation

  • What sounds do you hear in hot(Correct response: /h/ – /o/ – /t/)

Phoneme manipulation — initial (first) sound

  • Say mat without the /m/ sound. (Correct response: at)

Phoneme manipulation — final (last) sound

  • Say date without the /t/ sound. (Correct response: day)

Phoneme manipulation — substitution

  • Say pig(Correct response: pig)
  • Now change the /p/ in pig to /f/(Correct response: fig)

Age or grade typically mastered

  • Phoneme matching: The middle of kindergarten
  • Phoneme isolation — initial (first) sound: The middle of kindergarten
  • Phoneme isolation — final (last) sound: Late kindergarten or early first grade
  • Phoneme isolation — medial (middle) sound: Late kindergarten or early first grade
  • Phoneme blending: Late kindergarten or early first grade
  • Phoneme segmentation: First grade
  • Phoneme manipulation — initial (first) sound: First grade
  • Phoneme manipulation — final (last) sound: First grade
  • Phoneme manipulation — substitution: Middle to end of first grade or early second grade

When should it be assessed?

Phonemic awareness assessments should be conducted roughly three times per year during kindergarten and first grade to help guide instruction.

Printable assessment templates:

PAST: The Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) (opens in a new window) is a widely used informal diagnostic tool that helps you evaluate 14 separate aspects of phonological awareness, including phoneme-level phonological awareness.

Word recognition assessment

What it measures

Sight word vocabulary at a given grade level.

Examples of assessment questions

Ask a child to read from a list of words.

Age or grade typically mastered

Students should be expected to master age-appropriate material.

When should it be assessed?

Word recognition should be assessed roughly three times each year for students in kindergarten through second grade to help guide instruction.

DIBELS: DIBELS Word Reading Fluency (WRF) (opens in a new window) is a standardized, individually administered assessment that provides a measure of alphabetic principle and reading fluency skills.

Phonics elements assessment

What it measures

Phonics elements at a given grade level.

Examples of assessment questions

  • Show the student the letters sh and ask, “What sound do these letters spell?” (Correct response: /sh/)
  • How can I turn cap into cape(Correct response: Add an e to the end of the word.)

Age or grade typically mastered

Students should be expected to master age-appropriate material.

When should it be assessed?

Phonic elements should be assessed several times throughout the year in grades 1-3 to help guide instruction.

BPST: The Basic Phonics Skills Test III (BPST III) (opens in a new window) is a phonics assessment that includes the recognition of letter sounds, specific phonics patterns, and the blending of single syllable and polysyllabic words out of context.

Informal reading inventory (IRI)

What it can measure

  • Grade level reading
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Oral reading accuracy

Some IRIs can also be used to assess oral language comprehension. This is achieved by reading a passage and questions aloud to the student. The student answers questions orally. This enables the assessor to analyze the student’s ability to listen, attend to, and comprehend oral language, remember the gist of the passage and sequential details, and answer explicit and implicit questions.

Schools use many different IRIs, each with strengths, limitations, and unique characteristics. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) reviews textbooks used in teacher preparation programs. Their panel of experts look at how well these textbooks adhere to the science of reading. IRIs and other assessment tools are included in their reviews. Learn more here: Reviews of Reading Textbooks Used in Teacher Preparation Programs (opens in a new window).

Examples of assessment questions

Choose a grade level passage for the student to read aloud. As the student is reading, complete the reading accuracy and reading fluency assessments. After the student finishes the passage, check for understanding through some questions that call on the student to remember what he or she has read and some questions that call on the student to draw inferences or reach conclusions. Also, ask open-ended questions about the vocabulary found in the passage.

When should it be assessed?

The Informal Reading Inventory is an ongoing assessment. In kindergarten, perform the Informal Reading Inventory at least twice per year, at mid-year and at the end of school. In first and second grades, it should be done at least three times, at the beginning of the school year, at mid-year, and at the end of the year. If a child is struggling, the inventory should be done more often in order to have an accurate picture of the child’s progress.

Oral reading fluency — the ability to read connected text quickly, accurately, and with expression — is a critical skill for young readers. Students who read fluently (with automaticity) are able to focus on the meaning of the text instead of word-by-word decoding. We can use oral reading fluency data to inform instruction. For example, when a child can read 60 wcpm (this happens for most kids in first grade), they can more easily transition to reading silently and independently. Learn more in this article by Jan Hasbrouck: Understanding and Assessing Fluency

DIBELS: The DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) (opens in a new window) is a standardized, individually administered test of accuracy and fluency with connected text. Get the DIBELS testing materials here (opens in a new window).

Steps to administering an oral reading accuracy assessment

  • Choose a book that is age appropriate but unfamiliar to your student. (This will give you a more meaningful picture of a child’s ability to read accurately.)
  • Ask the student to read the story aloud to you and then at the end tell you what the story was about.

Familiarize yourself with the following scoring information prior to administering this assessment:

Reading behaviorHow to score
Read correctly (no error)Check mark over word
Omission (one error)Long dash over word omitted
Insertion (one error)^ at point of insertion with the inserted word written above it
Repetition of a word (no error)Mark above word with a capital R
Repetition of a phrase (no error)Capital R with a line and an arrow stretching across phrase repeated
Self correction (no error)Capital SC above the word to indicate child has immediately self-corrected
Unable to read word (one error)T for teacher prompt
Decodes a word in an obvious manner (no error)Mark individual sounds read within the word followed by a check mark if eventually read correctly or a circle if read incorrectly
Read incorrectly (one error)Circle word

Examples of specific errors

Substituting a word

  • Passage reads: The tall fir tree.    
  • Student reads: The tall far tree.

Omitting a word

  • Passage reads: The grey cat sniffed Ana. 
  • Student reads: The cat sniffed Ana. 

Inserting a word

  • Passage reads: A dark and stormy night.   
  • Student reads: A dark and stormy winter night.

If the student has to be told a word by the person administering the running record.

  • Passage reads: I wish that people …    
  • Student reads: I wish that… (pauses) that … (we prompt people)

As the student reads, mark each word on the form by using the symbols above. Place a check mark above the words read correctly. If the student reads a word incorrectly or substitutes a word, record what is said above the actual word.

The importance of specific reading behaviors

As the student reads, pay attention to their reading behaviors.Does the student apply decoding skills? For instance, does he or she try to sound out unfamiliar words, as opposed to simply guessing based on context and the first few letters of a word?

Intervene as little as possible when a student is reading.

If the student is stuck on a word, wait 5-10 seconds before you tell him or her the word.


After the reading, ask the student to tell you about what he or she has just read. Make notes on the following:

  • Can the student tell you what happened in the story in his or her own words?
  • Does the student include the different parts of a story (the characters, setting, events, problem, and resolution)?
  • Can the student identify the main idea and supporting details?
  • Does the student use some of the vocabulary found in the text?
  • Is the student’s retelling minimal, adequate, or very complete?

What do I do with the information from this assessment?

The information gathered from an Oral Reading Accuracy assessment can be used to determine error, accuracy, and self-correction rates. To calculate a student’s Reading Accuracy Rate, divide the total words read correctly by the total words read. For example, if a student read a passage containing 100 words and made 5 errors:

95 (total words read correctly) / 100 (total words read) = 95% word accuracy

Use the Accuracy Rate along with the information gained in the student’s story retelling to determine whether the text the student read was too easy, just right, or too difficult for the reader. 

Use this chart to help guide you when choosing texts for students:

Oral Reading AccuracyWhat this says about the text
95-100%Too easy; the text does not present a challenge
90-94%Just right; the text is challenging but manageable
89% and belowToo difficult; the text is frustrating for the reader

If a student can read a book with 100% word accuracy but can only give a minimal retelling of the story, do not choose a higher leveled book. We all read to get meaning. If children are not drawing meaning from a text, we need to help them become better at understanding what they read. Decoding accurately without comprehension is not enough.

What should I be looking for when I give an Oral Reading Accuracy assessment?

Giving an Oral Reading Accuracy assessment and asking a child to retell reveals many things about a child’s reading ability. There are other things to look for as well:

  • Has the student mastered directionality, letter-sound correspondence, return sweep (i.e., sweeping back to the left on the next line of text), etc?
  • Did the student make “good errors” when phonetically reading a word (e.g., reading island as is land instead of eye land. Even though the word was read incorrectly, the child did try to decode.)?
  • Was there an attempt to self-correct errors?
  • Did the student attempt to decode an unknown word?
  • Was the student’s reading slow and labored or fluent?
  • Did the student use expression while reading?

For helpful tips on administering an Oral Reading Accuracy assessment, please view the video clip “An Early Elementary Assessment” above.

Printable assessment template: Oral Reading Accuracy


What is a portfolio?

Portfolios can be used to document students’ achievement and progress.

How can I use portfolios in the classroom?

Portfolios provide a revealing picture of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Instruction on how to pick a piece of work to place in a portfolio is beneficial for students:

  • Does it show a concept with which a student struggled and then understood?
  • Does it demonstrate an understanding of a concept? 
  • Is it something that you’re proud of?

This type of instruction engages the student to reflect on his or her own work. Portfolios encourage students to take an active role in learning information they feel they have not yet mastered.

Portfolios can help guide instruction. Through looking at samples of a child’s work, we can often see what additional instruction is still needed. For example, by looking at a student’s writing, we may determine that the child needs more work on how to use commas or how to spell some common words.

Is there more than one type of portfolio?

There are several types of portfolios:

The Collection: The collection may consist of a folder that holds samples of a student’s work. The collection should include representative examples of the various types of student work, such as tests, writing samples, and homework assignments.

The Display Portfolio: This could be a container or box containing a selection of work documenting a student’s progres. This type of portfolio may be used to share with parents. Pieces of work are carefully selected by us and our students to show and share with parents and guardians during conferences.

Teacher/Student Assessment Portfolio: This might include work from the student’s display portfolio, tests, anecdotal notes, conference summaries, contacts made with parents, etc. This portfolio is used by teachers to aid in discussions with administrators, and by other teachers and parents.

Report writing

Communicating outcomes to students, parents, teachers, and administrators

Assessments are objective evaluations of specific reading skills. Reports should be objective, neutral forms of communicating students’ reading skills (strengths and weaknesses):

  • Start by compiling scores. Include all pertinent information. The assessment publisher may have a template for this purpose. If not, start with a brief description of the task, the number attempted, the number not tried, the number correct, and the number of errors. Include the exact errors and objective observations during the assessment (e.g., student paused for two seconds before responding, student read sound by sound). Scores become the attachment or appendix to the narrative.
  • The narrative should have the following sections: introduction, assessment result summary, and instruction that will follow to address skill gaps.
  • Write the narrative in an objective, neutral tone.
  • The introduction can include a brief description of the skills being assessed and the student’s attitude toward the assessment (e.g., Joe was relaxed and willing to participate).
  • When summarizing the assessment results, be specific about the error patterns and refer the reader to the attached assessment outcomes to see the full results.
  • In the summary, keep the focus on the skills measured, the strengths, and gaps. Do not include effort, personality, challenges to learning (e.g., ADHD), etc.
  • The final section should include this clear message: “Now that we have identified the student’s skill strengths and gaps, we know what to teach and where to focus our time.”


Torgesen, J. K. (2006). A comprehensive K-3 reading assessment plan: Guidance for school leaders. Portsmouth, NH. RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

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Learn more about using assessments to inform instruction and monitor program through our articles, tips for parents, video, FAQs, and research briefs. Visit our Assessment and Evaluation section