Assessing Reading Fluency – Word Recognition Accuracy

By Dr. Timothy Rasinski – guest bloggerReading fluency

Reading fluency has been identified by the Common Core Standards as a foundational reading competency.   This means that readers must have a solid foundation in reading fluency before they are able to move on to deeper and more sophisticated levels of reading (e.g. deep reading).   The Common Core indicate that reading fluency is made up essentially of three sub-components – word recognition accuracy, word recognition automaticity, and expressive (prosodic) reading that reflects the meaning of the text being read.   In order to determine how well students are doing in their development of fluency, we need ways to assess the various aspects of their fluency.  In this blog entry, I describe a simple way to assess word recognition accuracy, the first component of fluency.

In order to read one needs to be able to accurately recognize (decode or sound out) the words in the text.   Clearly, if a reader is unable sounding out 1 out of every 10 words in a text comprehension will suffer.     How do we assess this ability in our students?  We’ve all heard about the five finger rule – is on a given page of text a reader has trouble with five or more words, then that text is probably too difficult for the reader.    While intuitively appealing, this rule is rather imprecise.   A page of text can have anywhere from 20 to 100 or more words.  Five problematic words can yield a word recognition accuracy level of 75% to 95%.  That’s a wide range that really does not provide good guidance on the appropriateness of a passage.

There is however a more precise way to assess word recognition accuracy.    Here’s how it goes.   Find a passage of text of about 100 words that has a readability (Lexile) level that matches a student’s assigned grade level.   Ask the student to read this passage orally to you.    As the student reads you follow along and mark any word recognition errors that a student makes that goes uncorrected.  A word recognition error is simply when a student gives a pronunciation for word that does not match exactly the word in print. For example, word recognition errors may include a student reading big for bag, dog for dogs, saw for was.     A word recognition error may also include words omitted by the student or words in which you the teacher have to pronounce the word for the student after they have examined or attempted the word unsuccessfully for a count of three.

Once the student has completed the reading you simply determine the percentage of words that were read accurately.    This can be done by dividing the number or words read accurately (total words in the passage minus word recognition errors) by the total number of words in the passage; and then moving the decimal two places to the right.   For example, suppose a third grade student is asked to read a third grade passage that contains 110 words.  She makes 6 word recognition errors that she does not correct.   To determine the percentage of words read accurately, we divide 104 (110 total words minus 6 errors) by 110 total words.   This can be stated as a fraction: 104/110, a decimal: 94.5, or percentage: 94.5 %.

Now you need to interpret this percentage.      Here’s a good guide to use:

91% or below:   Frustration level.   The reader’s word recognition abilities are not sufficient to successfully read passages at the grade level of the passage read.

92-98%:  Instructional level.  The reader’s word recognition abilities are adequate to successfully read passes at the grade level of the passage read with some instructional assistance.

99% and above:  Independent level.  The reader’s word recognition abilities are at a level that will allow the reader to successfully read passages at the grade level of the passage read without assistance.

Let’s return to the student for whom we earlier calculated her word recognition accuracy percentage.  Her score of 94.5% suggests that she is at her instructional level for grade three material.  As a third grade student then, we can assume she is just where she should be — she is able to read third grade material successfully, but may need some assistance and further instruction in word recognition.

A word recognition accuracy score of 99% for a third grader reading third grade material suggests this student has a relatively strong ability to decode words at her assigned grade level.  On the other hand, a third grade student who scores at say 89% word recognition accuracy is likely to have difficulty in word recognition of third grade material (and higher), and this difficulty is likely to cause difficulty in comprehension of third grade material.   Students who score at 91% or below when reading grade level material are likely to be in need of additional instruction and support in learning to recognize or decode words.

This simple protocol for assessing word recognition can easily be modified to gain more precise information.   For example if a student score poorly on a third grade passage, it is reasonable to check the student out on second or even first grade material to determine where the student’s instructional level is at.   Similarly, for the student who decodes well on the third grade passage, you may wish to have the student read even more challenging material to determine her instructional level for word recognition.

Word recognition accuracy is critical for successful reading.   With this simple method for assessing word recognition accuracy you can easily determine which students are doing well in this competency and which students may need additional intervention in this key skill.   In my future blogs I will share simple approaches to assessing those other two foundational competencies – automaticity and prosody.

Dr. Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and director of its award winning reading clinic. He has written over 200 articles and has authored , co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is the author of several bestselling books on reading fluency.His research on reading has been cited by the National reading Panel and has been published in many high profile journals.


Inquiry-Driven Student Choice in The Digital Classroom

By Billy Spicer – Guest Blogger

digital classroom

Creating a digital classroom is essential to engaging students in learning for today’s YouTube generation.  We all know the “one size fits all” approach does not work. Through the use of authentic tools that bring students personal choice in their reading journey, teachers can leverage technology to create a digital classroom environment that engages students and families collaboratively, fosters personal growth, and provide quality content to frame an environment to build life long readers and learners.

Full disclosure: student choice is messy! But here’s a secret: the messiness is proof you’re getting somewhere! You’re trying! I’m still tinkering, taking risks, and trying new ideas as well. But here’s what I have learned…

In order to support students’ ongoing literacy needs, teachers must provide choice based on the student’s interest, but more importantly, frame it with inquiry-based learning. When students are seeking answers and solutions to questions they pose themselves, true and authentic learning can occur.

When we ask students to seek solutions to problems of their own choosing, we are encouraging them to engage in deep learning through a process of investigation rather that the low-grade clerical work we know has a low effect in improving student outcomes. Meaningful topics that connect with the standards and learning targets within a school can provide opportunities for students to think critically and connect with larger themes.  And isn’t that what we are striving for as advocates for building lifelong readers?  Yes-Thinking critically while engaged in a variety of texts to the student’s interest that promote individual growth!

Students who own their own learning will be positioning themselves for their future, not the one they are often being forced into. Providing students with authentic choice goes beyond simply picking an item out of a menu. In that case it’s still the teacher who is ultimately directing the learning. Instead, seek out opportunities for students to be self-directed in taking charge of their own learning. Whether you are already on board with student choice or looking to get started, consider the following tips as a possible catalyst to dive in.

  • Readers get to select texts that are to their own interest and independant level while following the big themes within a unit of study.
  • Readers pose questions and then seek the answers through diving deep into the topic.
  • Readers leverage literacy tools to curate their own personalized literacy environment: sketchnoting, mind maps, journals, text annotation etc.
  • Readers get to choose when they want to read silently, participate in a shared reading, or listen to the audio version of a book.
  • Readers will decide on an avenue for sharing their findings and answering their own “big question”.

Purposeful and meaningful experiences that integrate technology is at the core of today’s classroom in seeking avenues to improve student learning.  When we provide students with quality resources and tools we are not only empowering them to drive their own learning, but  also maximizing their individual reading growth.  

To learn about some other applications in which I leverage myON in my quest to empower student choice in my reading workshop, please check out the video below!

Transitioning to the Digital Classroom

Billy Spicer teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. As a member of the district’s Demonstration Classroom project, he spends 50% of his time in the classroom, with the other 50% serving as a technology integration specialist. He enjoys facilitating a passion for literacy, passionate learning through student choice, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs.

Getting Back to School with English Language Learners

This school year we will be featuring blogs from industry experts who will share thoughts, ideas, and expertise around cross curriculum instruction in the  classroom which will include varied perspectives from teachers, researchers, curriculum specialists and literacy experts.

We will kick off this school year with Steven Rivera-Padilla,  a Bilingual Education Paraprofessional with Hillsborough County Public Schools. He has spent years working with students from various countries and cultural backgrounds to ensure both English language skills and curriculum content is being learned.

English Language Learners

End of Summer Blues

By Steven Rivera-Padilla – Guest Blogger

Like many of you, I am gearing up for the start of another amazing school year. With this, a plethora of feelings arise; I like to call this my “end of summer blues”. My emotions range from excited to sad (summer vacation is always difficult to part ways with!) to excited (a fresh start is always a good feeling) and scared (unknown challenges lie ahead tend to play tricks with your mind) to fearlessness (I can overcome any new challenge!). Although my brain entertains all of these emotions these last few days of summer, the one thing I want to ensure is that I start off on the right foot with my special group of students.

Unlike teachers who teach a specialized subject to a specific grade, I have the pleasure of working with ELL (English language learners) students from all three middle school grades. I educate my students throughout their three years of middle school, which allows me to see the growth they make. It is always very gratifying, and it’s also very rewarding to see all they’ve learned over one school year.

English Language Learners
Our computer lab is ready to go!

This group of students has two goals: learn English and learn the curriculum. This isn’t an easy task, folks! Their proficiency in the language directly affects how much of the curriculum they learn, therefore LEARNING English is at the top of the priority list. If we want these students to learn the language as fast as possible, reading is fundamental. We must have them work on gaining vocabulary through reading proficiency.

“If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  -Benjamin Franklin

This is where starting off on the right foot comes to play. By establishing a strong groundwork during pre-planning and the first week of school, I can provide personalized literacy and cross-curricular, individualized instruction through myON! I create a fun myON ELL group that meets three to five days a week. We meet during homeroom, study hall, and sometimes during their lunch time.

The first week of school, students learn how to navigate their dashboard, begin and complete project, and being that they’re English language learners, how to use the program’s dictionary tool to look up English words unknown to them in their native language. (As we like to say in the ESOL world, “vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary!”) I give students the liberty to choose books that interest them when they’re not working on a specific project. Heads up, sixth grade boys are especially attracted to the scary and gross book selections… whatever gets them reading!

I will then adjust the individual Lexile levels, create and look for already created projects that will work for each students’ particular needs, and see how some of these projects will work in other classes—yes, talk to your other subject teachers throughout the school year to see what they’re learning, and assign students a project that correlates. The process will become second nature after the initial week and this will allow you to witness the gains students make. This makes my end of the summer blues last just before the school year begins instead of all year long!

Here’s to a fantastic school year full of amazing growth with all your students!