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Reading Assessment Tips: Measuring Accuracy and Fluency

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The following excerpt comes from Informal Assessment Strategies, by Beth Critchley Charlton (Stenhouse Publishers, 2009). The book retails for around $20 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

This excerpt offers simple equations for measuring students’ reading accuracy and fluency so that educators can provide instruction at the appropriate reading level. Be sure to read another excerpt from this book: Daily Formative Reading Assessment.

The goal of this informal reading assessment is to find a text level that is appropriate for instruction in the next steps of reading, a level where the teacher’s lesson allows students to build on what they know. In simple terms, we’re looking for a text that has just the right level of challenge. Once we know how the student sees himself as a reader, we need to find evidence of what he does as a reader.

Encourage the student to look over the section of text to be read aloud. According to the ability of the student, the length of the passage may change. At most, you’ll need 200 words—but if the whole story is less than 200 words, use the number of words in the story.

The rate of accuracy recognized as appropriate for instruction is 90 to 94%. To many teachers, a percentage of 90% may seem high, but formal research and any action research I’ve been involved in supports this criterion for success. Why? A student making more than 15 errors in 150 words puts so much effort into figuring out individual words that there is little energy left to think about the meaning of the text. An accuracy rate of 90% means that the student needs to do some work with the words in the text, but not so much work that the student’s efforts are concentrated wholly on word solving and not on other sources of information that may help work out the meaning of the passage. So, if the student is reading below 90% accuracy, choose another selection of text.

Here’s a simple equation to determine accuracy

Total Number of Words – Total Number of Errors
Total Number of Words




150 words – 6 errors
150 words




.96 x 100



Teachers can make a quick estimation of accuracy by scanning the page for what seems to be 100 words; if 10 errors are noticed within these 100 words, the teacher chooses another passage. Actual percentages may be calculated later.

You’ll also want to count the number of self-corrections. A self-correction is an indication that the student is monitoring her or his reading, and has the ability to approach tricky words or phrases in alternate ways. Self-corrections are described as a ratio and are calculated this way:

Errors + Self-Corrections


Self-Correction Ratio


          4 Self-Corrections______
8 Errors + 4 Self-Corrections







A ratio of 1:3 means that the student self-corrects one error out of three. Ratios of 1:4 and lower indicate that the student is noticing errors and has the awareness of how to fix errors effectively. Ratios above 1:4 are a flag that students would benefit from instruction in how to monitor their reading. When you’ve found a text the student can read with 90% or above accuracy, write the title and the percent accuracy on a Reading Record form.

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The codes that count as errors are:

  • Substitutions: when a student substitutes one word for another
  • Insertions: when a student adds a word to the text
  • Omissions: when a student omits a work
  • Tolds: when you decide to tell a student struggling for a word what the word is
  • Appeals: when a student stops and asks for help

These codes are not errors:

  • A repetition of a word or phrase that is accurate is not an error.
  • If a student appeals for help, but then is able to come up with the word independently (without a prompt beyond “Try it”), the appeal is not counted as an error.
  • A self-correction is not an error.
  • Finally, if a student makes the same error several times, the error is counted each time. This allows the teacher to know whether or not a student notices the repeated error.

In addition to coding the errors and the self-corrections, I like to make note of anything the student says or does that gives me information about the student as a reader. So, if a student begins to sound out a word and comes up with a correct response, I write down this word work. Or if a student makes an interesting comment about the story or something noticed about the text, I write that down as well.

A true measure of a student’s ability to process text effectively is the ability to read accurately and fluently. Contrary to what some researchers and assessment forms suggest, fluency is not simply a matter of how fast a student reads. It’s much more important than speed. To measure fluency, we consider the speed of reading; perhaps more importantly, we listen for indications of

  • meaningful phrasing;
  • expression;
  • intonation;
  • attention to punctuation; and
  • a rate appropriate to the genre.

When the measure of fluency includes the above indicators, a teacher knows the student has an awareness of how the structure of language works to create meaning. Fluent reading demonstrates the student’s awareness of how the words in written text are presented in a predictable structure (punctuation, phrasing, intonation, and expression) that enables the reader to interact with the text to make meaning. A student reading fluently demonstrates an awareness of how

  • reading is about more than knowing the words;
  • words work together to make meaningful phrases;
  • words may work together to allow for varying interpretations;
  • words and phrases allow us to predict what will come next and to confirm that what we’ve read makes sense;
  • punctuation allows us to adjust our reading in a meaningful way; and
  • intonation and expression may be used to determine importance and to interpret the text.

To illustrate how fluency works, think of a child learning to play the piano. At first, all effort is put into finding the notes and playing them in the right sequence. The playing may be accurate, but since the child is playing one or two notes at a time, there may not be a noticeable tune, and there’s certainly no interpretation of the music. With practice, putting the notes together becomes more and more automatic. It becomes fluent. With this automaticity comes the child’s ability to interpret the music. The same applies to reading. Once a student gets beyond word-by-word reading, he can begin to relate to, interpret and use the text.

In essence, the goal is for a student to read “like a storyteller” or speaking comfortably. To measure fluency, a rubric is useful. This rubric (designed by my colleague, Janet Bright) allows for a quick assessment of a student’s reading fluency.

Level 4:

Mainly large meaningful phrases; expressive interpretation; aware of syntax

Level 3:

Mainly three- or four-word phrases; aware of syntax; some expressive interpretation

Level 2:

Mainly two-word phrases and some word-by-word reading

Level 1:

Mainly word-by-word

It has been my experience that a student reading a text accurately and fluently either understands the text or is reading at a good level for instruction in how to comprehend the text. The “or” is an important distinction. We know that many students sound like good readers, but may have difficulty understanding what they read.

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