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The home of Vocab Gal and other educational experts K–12 resources

August 11, 2021 CL Seasonal Activities Fall, CL Teaching Strategies Charts & Org, ELA PD - Literacy, ELA K-5, ELA Focus - Reading, ELA Seasonal Back to School, ELA Resources - Assessment, Core Literacy

How to Assess Reading Levels of Elementary Students Throughout the Year

In this article, you'll find free resources that will assist you in assessing the reading levels of elementary students at the beginning of the school year and throughout the entire school year. Plus, download a variety of printable worksheets that will assist you in assessing the reading levels of your students. Downloads like our free Initial Student Reading Conference Forms and Reading Survey for Students.


Assessments Help Guide Students Towards Lifelong Reading 

Balanced Literacy is a curricular methodology that integrates various modalities of literacy instruction, which are aimed at guiding students towards proficient and lifelong reading. To successfully integrate the balanced literacy approach into instruction and set students up to become lifelong readers, teachers must often assess and confer with students.

Teachers assess students in order to collect information about how much knowledge and skill the students have learned (assessment as a measurement tool). Teachers also use assessments to gauge the students’ level of learning (assessment as an evaluative tool).

There are two basic types of assessments: formative and summative.

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS are assessments FOR learning

    • Journaling, conferring, observation, self-assessment, portfolios, etc.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS are assessments OF learning

    • Unit assessments, standardized assessments, portfolios, etc.

This post includes information and downloads for both formative and summative assessments.

Benefits of Pre-Assessing Students' Reading Levels and Skills

  • Get to know individual readers

  • Provide summaries of student learning

  • Give information about student learning progress

  • Diagnose strengths and weaknesses of an individual's learning

  • Supply direction for further learning

  • Help with goal-setting for differentiated instruction

Back-to-School Evaluations to Pre-Assess Reading Levels and Skills

Below are three reading evaluations teachers can use to at the start of the school year to pre-assess reading level and skills of elementary students.

Reading Evaluation 1: Initial Reading Conferences 

The best way for me to get to know my individual readers is through my initial reading conferences, which I refer to as "Three Different Books." This conference gives me valuable information about and insights into each student, and it also helps shape my literacy instruction.

Before I kick off my initial student reading conferences, I inform the class that they will each be meeting with me so I can learn more about their personalities. I explain that since I'm a teacher, I find that the best way to learn about something is through books, so each student needs to come prepared with three books that will help me get to know them better.


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Book #1: Favorite Book

The first book students are required to bring to our initial reading conference is a copy of their favorite book. This might sound clichéd, but discussing a favorite book with each student tells me a lot about their personality and helps me assess their reading level.

To begin, I use the favorite book to assess which reading group each individual student falls into– motivated reader, unmotivated reader, or struggling reader. Knowing what type of readers my students are helps me see who already has a passion for reading and who needs me to ignite the fire. 

For example, there are the students that can easily and happily discuss their favorite book's characters, setting, plot, and problem. These students (the motivated readers) also seem to know the book like the back of their hand and will proceed to discuss several other books that they are currently reading.

Then there are the students that are able to read chapter books and should be reading them, but instead brings in a very simplistic picture book (the unmotivated reader). Of course, a childhood favorite with a detailed explanation of why he or she chose it would be an acceptable choice, but typically this is a student that has not read enough chapter books to have a favorite

Finally there are the students who bring a book they have never read, but they desperately needed to find any book because they clearly do not have a favorite book (the struggling readers).

I also use the favorite book to get an idea about what genre students are drawn to reading, discuss storylines, and assess basis reading comprehension skills.

Book #2: A Character They Admire

The second book I ask my students to bring is a book that has a character they admire. This book is going to require them to dive a little deeper with their thinking, as we discuss the book during our conference.

I inquire about why they admire the character or what they would most like to ask that character and why. I ask for specific character descriptions with evidence to support their thinking. I will also ask if they know another character with similar traits in a different book.

This book tells me a lot about a student's analytical skills.

Book #3: A Book You Would Change

The third book is a book in which they would like to change something. It does not have to be a book that the student didn't like, but it must have a part that he or she would like to rewrite, and I ask them to explain why.

This can be quite difficult for many students. It is another level of comprehension that requires students to not only analyze, but also in a sense to almost create something by changing a part of the book.

When we meet...

When we meet, I use an Initial Student Reading Conference Form to record information. I start by reading their first book alongside them. Ideally, the student would read the entire book aloud to me, however if I notice they are struggling I will either (a) take turns reading pages or passages to help them relax or (b) have my student read along with me. While students read aloud I'm mentally assessing reading fluency by listening for smoothness, speed, phrasing, expression, voice inflections etc.

Once we are done with the book I start asking questions and taking notes on my student teacher conference form.

I follow this same process with the other two books students' bring to our reading conference.

These initial conferences always end up influencing my classroom reading strategies. The more I get to know about each student’s strengths and weaknesses, or likes and dislike, the better I can prepare to guide and encourage them.

In short, If we want to make our students lifelong readers, it's essential that we recognize they are all on an individual reading journey. Start the semester off right by downloading the Initial Student Reading Conference Forms and get to know your reading students by holding your own "Three Different Books" meetings.

Reading Evaluation 2: Reading Survey for Students

In addition to conferring with my students, I like to have them take a reading survey. I've found that the answers on a reading survey actually can be used to gauge or assess reading levels.

I use a Reading Survey for Students worksheet to ask students questions about their reading likes and dislikes, their goals, and their attitudes about reading class.

Of course, I could have students complete the survey electronically, but I like to keep the survey results on hand so I can refer to them throughout the beginning of the school year.

 Use a Reading Survey for Students worksheet to ask students questions about their reading likes and dislikes, their goals, and their attitudes about reading class.

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Some years (time permitting), I ask my students to take the survey again at the end of the year to see how they have changed and grown as readers. My students love to compare and contrast the differences in their reading preferences from the beginning of the year to the end.

Download the Reading Survey for Students worksheet to use at the start of the school year with your new readers.

Reading Evaluation 3: Selecting a Standard Strand Focus 

This reading evaluation is designed to help teachers figure out which Standard strands your students need the most work with. First, I select a short reading text appropriate for the grade level I am testing. I like the text to have a clear problem and solution. I then use the reading and literacy Standards as my guide.

Here are some sample questions I would ask focusing on the “Key Ideas and Details”:

RL 3.1 What was the problem in the story? How was it solved? Use specific details from the text.
RL 3.2 What is a possible lesson that can be learned from this text? Explain.
RL 3.3 Describe a character in the text and explain how his or her actions contributed to the sequence of events.
RL 4.1 What did the main character do to solve the problem? What lesson do you think the main character learned in the story?
RL 4.2 Summarize the story.
RL 4.3 Which event was most important in the story? Use specific details from the text to explain why.
RL 5.1 Describe one of the characters in the story using a quote from the text to support your thinking.
RL 5.2 Explain in detail the theme of the text.
RL 5.3 Compare and contrast this story with another story. Explain how they are alike AND different. 

As you can see, I used the Standards to create questions that would work with most short stories containing a problem and solution.

I like to give a pre- and post-assessment using the same questions, but with two different texts, one text for the pre-assessment and another for the post-assessment. I also use these questions as an assessment after a novel study.



Strategies to Assess Reading Throughout the School Year

Strategy 1: Continue Student Conferences

Student conferences provide a unique experience for teachers to meet with individual students in order to see how they are employing effective reading comprehension strategies.

Through the gradual release of responsibility, the goal is to guide students to become more thoughtful and independent readers. While conferencing with students, use the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Reading Conference Notes to help you incorporate a variety of questions based on the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.

While conferencing with students, use the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Reading Conference Notes to help you incorporate a variety of questions based on the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.

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Strategy 2: Comprehension Strategies and Assessments

Education is a field that seems to be constantly changing and progressing through advances in technology, professional publications, and research studies. Every year, I find myself revising, completely changing, or even creating from scratch new lesson plans and units. The only constant that has remained for me in all these years is my goal of teaching what I like to refer to as the seven “core reading comprehension strategies.” These strategies will help your students better understand what they are reading. They will also foster a deeper understanding of a text because they serve as a tool for analyzing it.

Reading comprehension strategies help students to stay engaged and to think about what they are reading. Utilizing reading strategies requires students to stay active while reading a passage, which leads to them being able to comprehend a text to a greater capacity.

When you explicitly teach comprehension strategies, your students are more likely to apply the strategies while reading independently. Active readers/thinkers tend to retain more information and ponder more about the text.

Below are the seven core reading comprehension strategies I teach to my students. The corresponding questions should be used during your instruction and then after as a reading assessment tool.

Download a Seven Core Reading Comprehension Strategies Tip Sheet that students can reference and add to their reading binders and/or journals.


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Strategy 3: Set Reading Goals Based on Individual Needs

At the beginning of every reading unit my students and I sit together individually to set a literacy goal. We come up with a reading focus they will “target.” Together, we complete “a target” sheet (available for download).

This ensures that all of my students have a target/goal specific to the learning needs that they is focusing on. We begin by stating the target/goal and then I help the students brainstorm strategies to hit that target. At the end of the unit (and periodically throughout the unit) we assess if the target was met or if more time is needed to hit the target.

Here is an example for how to fill out the target sheet: If I had a student that needed to work on “finding the most important part in a fiction text” for the target/goal,I would write: “To be able to determine the most important part of a fiction text.” For strategies on how to hit the target I would write: “1. Look for the solution to the problem. 2. Notice if the main character changes.”

The My Target Organizer ensures that all students have a target or goal specific to his or her learning needs. At the beginning of every unit, use the organizer to give each student "a target." 



Strategy 4: Reading Engagement Inventory

At the beginning of every reading unit my students and I sit together individually to set a literacy goal. We come up with a reading focus they will “target.” Together, we complete “a target” sheet (available for download).

I use a Reading Engagement Inventory Observation Worksheet set up with boxes at five-minute intervals (available for download; customize the times to your own class period). I observe my students and use the following codes to record engagement.

√– engaged             l – library

r – reacting             w – window/around the room

t – teacher               n – notes

Every five minutes, I look around the room to see if my students are: √– engaged in reading; r – reacting to the text; t – watching me, instead of reading; l – browsing in the classroom library (this tells me how long it takes a student to select a book or if he/she is using the library to avoid reading); w – staring out the window; n – notes/writing about the text. I simply record the code in the row next to the student's name every five minutes, for 30 minutes.

I am always shocked to see just how much time my struggling readers spend avoiding reading, how long it takes my procrastinators to actually get started, or the amount of time my students that dislike reading use to do anything but read.

This information is very useful for individualized instruction and goal setting. Depending on the grade level I'm working with and the students’ maturity level, I will share the results with them. The data collected helps the students set goals for themselves. For example, a struggling reader may set a goal to increase his or her time spent reading (if that is an issue). A procrastinator may work on getting started within two minutes of the directions being given.

I try to do an engagement inventory for my students once a month, and especially, close to parent conference time. The information I collect about my students using this engagement inventory helps me get to know them as independent readers and workers, and allows me to hold a parent conference confident that I know their child's independent reading behaviors. I think you will find this tool to be invaluable.

An engagement inventory is an observational tool used to record if your students are “engaged” in reading or writing about a text during independent reading time. Use the Reading Engagement Inventory Observation Worksheet to assess students' independent reading behaviors.


In Summary

Assessing your students in reading throughout the school year is important for many reasons. Reading evaluation and reading assessments help you get to know your individual readers and diagnose strengths and weaknesses. Assessments also provide summaries of student learning and give information about student learning progress.

Reading assessments supply direction for further learning and help with goal setting for differentiated instruction.

Be sure to download the reading assessment tools in this post to use with your students as school begins and throughout the year.