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Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

Reading Screening and Placement Assessments for Grades 3-Adult

Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

Good teachers are interested in seeing measurable reading progress for their class or classes, as well as for individual students. Teachers don’t just want to think that they are achieving results; they want to know that they are doing so. So that brings up assessment.

Now, assessment has become a dirty word in some teaching circles because it’s been associated with mind-numbing paperwork, excessive amounts of class time, accountability, and even embarrassment. More often than not, teachers view top-down assessments as unteachable and a waste of effort and time. Teachers are, by nature, independent thinkers. If they don’t see the immediate and long term benefit of a teaching practice, resource, or assessment, they won’t keep “kicking the dead horse.” Teachers are all about “Show me the money!” when it comes to what they do with their students. This is especially true with reading screening and placement assessments.

Generally, most teachers find these universal screening assessments to be either a necessary evil for placement: We have to have our early and late groups for elementary school or We have to split up our students into remedial, grade level, and accelerated/honors groups for middle school. Or these common entry level assessments are mandated by the principal, reading coach, or Response to Intervention (RtI) coordinator for progress monitoring. Think Big Brother.

What if things were different? What if reading screening and placement assessments were designed as part of YOUR instruction. What each of the assessment items informed the teacher about what did and did not need to be taught? What if the screening assessments gave the teacher the instructional game plan for the class and for individual students? That’s what you’re hoping to find in this article, isn’t it? I won’t disappoint you.

Here’s what I’ve found that teachers want for their reading screening and placement assessments:

Eight Assessment Criteria for Reading Screening and Placement Assessments

  1. Teachers want reading assessments that will screen students for reading problems and provide realistic and flexible placement options.
  2. Teachers want reading assessments that won’t take much class time to administer and are not teacher-dependent for make-ups and new students.
  3. Teachers want reading assessments that are easy to administer.
  4. Teachers want to minimize individual assessment and maximize whole class assessment.
  5. Teachers want reading assessments that are easy to grade and record results.
  6. Teachers want reading assessments that others could administer (counselors, administrators, parents, para-educators) and receive the same results.
  7. Teachers want reading assessments that are teachable. If an assessment indicates a general problem area, but doesn’t provide the discrete causal issue, either further assessment will be required (a waste of more precious class time) or all the teacher will be able to do is group students by general problem areas. For example, teachers want an assessment that would indicate that a student or students could not read the letter “a” schwa sound (a/bout). Teachers don’t want a reading assessment which indicates that a student has a problem with schwa sound-spellings through a random sample test item or items (Why teach all of these sound-spellings if only one is an issue?). Teachers especially don’t want a reading assessment that would indicate a vowel sounds problem or even worse, a phonics problem. If the test is not prescriptive, if the test does not indicate specific deficits, if the test is simply a random sample of reading skills, why bother? Why give a test that provides nothing to teach to?
  8. Teachers want reading assessments that have a simple, one-page recording matrix for record-keeping and progress monitoring. LESS PAPERWORK AND LESS CLERICAL TIME MEANS MORE TIME FOR TEACHING. 

The Big 3 Assessments FREE Downloads with MP3 Audio Files and Recording Matrices

These assessments are primarily designed to determine reading intervention needs for grades 3-adult learners; however, many teachers find many of the assessments to be applicable as instructional level assessments for K-2 learners. Only three assessments are needed for universal screening and placement: The whole class vowel sound-spellings (10:42) and consonants (12:07) phonics tests (teacher copy, student copy, audio file, and recording matrix), a whole class spelling patterns test (teacher copy, student copy, 22:38 audio file, and recording matrix), and an individual fluency assessment (teacher copy, student copy, and recording matrix). 


  1. Why do the phonics tests use nonsense words? Shouldn’t there be real words, too? Students know their sight words and so the nonsense words are better at testing the discrete sound-spelling combinations. Plus, each of these sound-spelling components, plus rimes, sight words, syllables, and phonemic awareness better serve as assessments following reading screening and placement. You don’t have to eat the whole meal when a taste (or three) will determine if you need the whole full-course dinner. By the way, all of the rest of these assessments with audio files and recording matrices are provided FREE at the end of the article.
  2. Why a spelling test? Spelling (encoding) is the other side of the coin of phonics (decoding). Both involve sound-spellings derived from the alphabetic code.
  3. Why two minutes on the fluency test? Some fluency tests time the whole passage. Yes, but it’s really not necessary, nor efficient to do so. Most fluency assessments are only one-minute; however, teachers know that these tests were normed under controlled experimental design. Not like your classroom, on the first few days of school when students are nervous and Bobby and Cheyenne are talking and the bell rings and… Trust me. You need two minutes to hear each child read, check accuracy, and get an informed feel for reading ability. My reading fluency assessment is expository, does not rely upon prior knowledge, and is leveled in this manner: the first paragraph is first grade reading level; the second is second grade reading level; etc. This affords the teacher much more data than those reading fluency assessments listed above. Like the other fluency assessments, the teacher gets words per minute, level of accuracy, level of prosody (the music of oral language; the expression of voice; the attention to syntax and punctuation), attention to punctuation, insertions, deletions, substitutions, decoding ability, and sight words. But with this Individual Reading Fluency Assessment, the teacher gets data about reading grade levels: independent, instructional, and frustrational. Easy to place the students in guided reading groups. Easy to help assign independent reading articles and chapter books. So efficient. And no, you don’t have to do time-consuming running records.
  4. But shouldn’t we have students complete a writing sample? Very helpful to diagnose levels of cognition, knowledge of paragraph structure, use of vocabulary… but not for reading.
  5. But shouldn’t we have students complete a comprehension test? Isn’t reading all about comprehension? Yes, but reading comprehension is not about a whole bunch of discrete sub-skills that can be reliably measured in any fashion so as to affect instructional decisions. As a reading specialist, I’ve given and scored all of the normed and criterion referenced reading comprehension tests. The only data derived from these time-consuming, expensive tests, is a grade level equivalent or even less useful, a generalization such as weak in inferential, strong in knowledge of figurative language, grade level in vocabulary, etc. How does that help you teach that child or class differently than if you did not give the test? Trust me. The two minute reading fluency test with the leveled paragraphs gives you much more useful data.
  6. But shouldn’t we have a vocabulary assessment? No, you can’t teach to it. But shouldn’t we have a word recognition test like the San Diego Quick Assessment or the Slosson Oral Reading Inventory? No, you can’t teach to it. But shouldn’t we have baseline data? I know it looks great on paper and re-assessing later may show growth, but the phonics, spelling, and fluency assessments are baseline data and can also be re-assessed.
  7. But shouldn’t we give a random sample assessment like a qualitative spelling inventory as a screening and placement assessment? Why bother giving part of the whole, which because of its design is non-comprehensive, when we can give comprehensive assessments that are teachable. Teachers like using assessment data to drive instruction.
  8. But what about other reading assessments, other than the BIG 3 Reading Screening and Placement Assessments, that teachers will need for assessment-based teaching? Syllable Awareness, Syllable Rhyming, Phonemic Isolation, Phonemic Blending, Phonemic Segmenting, Alphabetic Upper and Lower Case Letter Match and Alphabetic Sequencing, Outlaw Words Assessment,Rimes Assessment, and a Sight Syllables Assessment? Okay, I’ve added o each of these assessments, plus a diagnostic grammar, and a diagnostic mechanics assessment for good measure. Now, all you need are the instructional resources which perfectly correspond to each item on each assessment.

Get the 13 FREE Reading Assessments, including teacher copies, student copies, MP3 audio files, and recording matrices HERE but… Why not get each of these assessments plus all of the instructional resources to teach to these assessments?

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

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