Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Assessing Reading Level

A large part of being a reading teacher revolves around assessing your students’ reading levels. Think about it; will your students learn anything at all if the reading material is way too difficult or too easy? Of course not!

There are numerous standardized tests in each state that evaluate student reading comprehension. Many of these determine if a student can move onto the next grade or even graduate. However, these tests mostly occur towards the end of the school year. How does that help you assess your students right now? Being with your students daily requires you to be constantly evaluating your students and determining where they stand. Only then can you design instruction that will optimize learning. The rest of this lesson will focus on strategies for evaluating your students’ reading level.

Group Reading Inventory

The first method for assessing reading level in the classroom is called a group reading inventory. This method consists of a whole-class activity to give a general idea of the reading level of a specific reading material. First, choose a passage around 500 words. Next, prepare 10 to 20 questions on various reading concepts, like vocabulary, main ideas, details, or sequence. Depending on the grade you teach, these questions can be open-ended or multiple choice. Use your own discretion with this. As you create the questions, also create an answer key, identifying the reading concept for each question.

Then, give students the passage and use a stopwatch to record how long it takes the students to read the passage. The instructor can then take this time into consideration during instruction. When the students finish reading, have them answer the questions you created. Finally, collect the papers and score the answers. For each student, find the percent of correct questions. Ninety percent correct or higher means a student is an independent reader. A 60% to 89% means the student is at an instructional level, which means he might be able to grasp the material with instructional support from the teacher. Students scoring below that are at a frustration level, which means the material is too difficult. Look at the scores of your whole class to determine if the reading material is appropriate for their reading levels.


The next few strategies for assessing students’ reading levels involve using miscues. These are verbal reading responses that vary from those expected. Simply speaking, miscues occur when a student makes a mistake while reading aloud. If you have already identified specific students with reading issues, miscues can be a great way to analyze those students one-on-one.

Substitution is an example of a miscue. This occurs when an incorrect word is spoken in place of the written word. For instance, saying ‘when’ when the word is ‘want.’ Other miscues include using a nonsense word, which is a word that does not exist, omission which is skipping the word, reversal, which is switching letters around, and insertion, which is inputting words that are not there. Have a student you are concerned about read aloud for you. Note the miscues. The frequency of different miscues can give you insight into a struggling reader’s underlying problems.

Curriculum-Based Measurement

You can also use miscues to create a curriculum-based measurement. This measures the number of words a student reads correctly in one minute. To use CBM, choose a passage of about 600 words and have your student read the passage out loud. As he reads, mark any miscues that are made on your own copy of the passage. Also, include any observations about the miscues. For instance, was the mistake understandable? Did the student ask for help?

Have the student read for two minutes and make notes as he goes along. After the reading, count how many words the student read. Then subtract the number of miscues. So, if he read 100 words and made 10 miscues, you are left with 90 correct words. Then, divide this number by two to get how many words per minute the student reads fluently, which in this case would be 45. Compare this to your other students to see overall patterns. Over time, you can retest the student and see if the words per minute increases or decreases. You can also note how miscues have changed or remained the same.


The next strategy for assessing reading level is a retelling, in which you use how well students can describe what they have read. First, choose a passage of reasonable length and content for your grade level. Next, make an outline of all the main ideas in the passage. Then, explain to your student. Ask him to read the passage and then verbally tell you all the main ideas from it. Allow the student to read the passage independently. When finished, ask the student to retell the information he just read. As he does so, compare the retelling to your outline. How many of the main ideas was he able to retell? Did he remember eight out of the ten main ideas? This can give you a general percentage of how much information was understood during the reading.

Comprehension Think Aloud

A final strategy is to use a comprehension think aloud, which requires a student to describe his thoughts as he interacts with the text. Superior readers do certain things as they read, including activate background knowledge, make predictions, form mental images, monitor their own comprehension and fix problems as they read. The purpose of this strategy is to check for these processes during the think aloud.

To do so, first choose a passage appropriate for your students. Then, place the passage into a chart with two columns. The first column has the whole text and the other is blank. In the text, insert stopping points at varying spots. While reading, each student must stop at the stopping point and write their thoughts in the blank column. You want to keep this vague, to allow for any and all thoughts to be included. However, if the students don’t know what to write, have a general question at the top of the column. For instance, ‘What do you think this part is about?’

Collect the think alouds and analyze the students’ responses. Check to see how their thought processes work while reading. See if any of the processes advanced readers use appear in the think aloud. Again, this is not an exact science, but it can give you an idea of which process the student might be struggling with.

Lesson Summary

To review, it is very important to constantly assess your students’ reading levels throughout the year. There are many different ways to do so.

First, you can use a group reading inventory, which can give you an idea of how difficult a text is for your class. The results will tell you if each student is at the independent level, instructional level, or frustration level.

Another strategy is to use miscues, which are errors made in oral reading. As a student reads aloud, track the miscues made. You can also use a curriculum-based measurement, which subtracts the number of miscues from the number of words read to give how many words per minute are read fluently.

Next, you can have a student complete a retelling, which requires the student to read a passage and retell the information. Compare the retelling with your outline of the passage to get a general idea of how much information the student comprehended from the reading.

Last, a think aloud is a method to evaluate the processes a student goes through while reading. Have the student write down his thoughts as he reads and analyze the responses to see if he is using the processes superior readers use.

Ideally, throughout the year, you should be using a variety of methods to evaluate your students’ reading level and learning. These are just some of the ways students can be assessed in the classroom.

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