Assessing Reading

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It is the beginning of the school year, and we are eager to see how our students read and what skills we need to teach them.  How do we accomplish both?  We do so with a comprehensive reading assessment that covers all skills needed for reading. 

Science of Reading and a Reading Assessment

The science of reading tells us that BOTH language comprehension AND decoding are needed for effective and efficient reading comprehension (the ultimate goal of reading). Looking at Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope, we see that the Language comprehension skills (including Background knowledge, Vocabulary, Language structures, Verbal reasoning, and Literacy knowledge) work in tandem with the Word recognition skills (Phonological awareness, Decoding, and Sight recognition) to create skilled readers who can comprehend the texts that they read.

Hollis Scarborough's Reading Rope
Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope

Especially for English language learners and for students with poor vocabulary skills, these upper strands of the reading rope must be assessed and taught. Supporting students’ background knowledge is also a crucial step in ensuring that they comprehend the texts they read.

               Both parts of the reading rope are equally as important, and each deserves a deep dive into the skills we need to assess.  In this post, we are going to examine the lower parts of the rope for Word Recognition.  These skills include Phonological awareness, Decoding (Alphabetic principle & Letter-sound correspondences), and Sight recognition. For years I gathered multiple assessments pieces to make sure I assessed all skills for phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition. But it was not organized, nor was it streamlined. So, I finally created my own, Structured Literacy Comprehensive Assessment to have an affordable and complete reading assessment for my students. I go into more detail about that resource and other independent assessment options below.

When Should I do a Reading Assessment?

  • Initial screenings for all students at the beginning of the year
  • Progress monitoring 2-3 times a year.  You will want to assess struggling readers more often.
  • Use comprehensive assessments that lend themselves to screening and progress monitoring throughout the year

Materials Needed for Assessment:

  • Pencils
  • Blank notebook paper
  • Chips/puff balls (or some other type of manipulatives you have on hand)
  • Teacher Observation sheet for informal assessment of pencil grip, posture, repetition, needed redirection, vocabulary (oral) vs written vocabulary, understanding of directions, etc. You can download a Teacher Observation form here for FREE!
Informal Assessment Observation Form
Informal Assessment Observation Form

Phonological Awareness

               Reading involves moving from speech to print.  The core of reading is the phonemic piece (individual sounds) and not the larger phonological awareness pieces.  (You can read more about the difference here).  Don’t spend too much time on rhyming, for example, with older students.  We need to move into the phonemic awareness stage as soon as possible and assess how our students blend, segment, and manipulate phonemes within words. It is the phonemic piece of reading that most often accounts for why students struggle to read.

               Assess all students’ phonemic awareness (PA) in grades Kindergarten through second grade.  For those whose PA skills are automatic, they will not require explicit PA instruction.  But for those who are not automatic, explicitly teach and practice those targeted PA skills with PA drills and games.

               There are many assessments out there that assess Phonological Awareness skills.  A few that I recommend are:

  1. Structured Literacy Phonics Assessment Phonological Awareness, Reading, Spelling
  • Great for a wide range of ages
  • Includes a Pre and Post assessment of all skills
  • Rhyming
  • Sentence, syllable, and phoneme segmentation
  • Phoneme manipulation in all parts of a word
  • Purchase online here

2. Assessing Reading Multiple Measures Revised 2nd Edition 2018 (Core Literacy Training Series). 

3. The PAST revised by David Kilpatrick

  • Great for first grade and older
  • Phoneme manipulation in all parts of a word
  • Includes 4 versions to use throughout the year
  • FREE online here


               Both alphabetic knowledge and letter-sound correspondences should be assessed as part of the decoding process. Ultimately, students’ mastery of letter-sound correspondences helps determine whether they can read words or not. I encourage you to use both real and nonsense words to accurately assess a student’s decoding ability.

               Two phonics assessments I recommend:

  1. Structured Literacy Phonics Assessment Phonological Awareness, Reading, Spelling
  • Great for a wide range of ages
  • Includes a Pre and Post assessment of all skills
  • Letter naming, letter writing, letter sounds, word reading, nonsense word reading, spelling, oral reading/fluency, and comprehension
  • Purchase online here

Assessing Reading Multiple Measures Revised 2nd Edition 2018 (Core Literacy Training Series)

  • Great for a wide range of ages
  • Letter naming, letter sounds, word reading, and oral reading
  • Purchase online here

Sight Word Recognition

               Thanks to scientific studies of the brain, we now know that we put words into our long-term, “sight word” vocabulary in the same manner regardless of whether they are phonetically regular or irregular.  Automatic recognition of high frequency words (HFW) aid in fluency, decoding, and comprehension.  So, it is important to assess which HFWs the student knows. This will tell you which words you still need to teach (try this FREE HFW resource!), which HFW words to preview prior to oral reading, and which ones the student should be held accountable for reading correctly in connected text.

               Consider the results of your Sight Word reading assessments in combination with the Decoding assessments and Phonological Awareness Assessments.  When looking at all areas of Word Recognition, you will better be able to pinpoint the causes of a student’s underlying reading struggles.

               Two High Frequency Word Assessments I recommend are:

  • High frequency words divided by Dolch grade level lists

2. Assessing Reading Multiple Measures Revised 2nd Edition 2018 (Core Literacy Training Series)

  • CORE High-Frequency Word Survey by grade level

I hope that you enjoy your time assessing your students. It is a powerful tool that will help guide your instruction. Thank you for spending the time getting to know your students’ strengths and areas for growth!

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  1. Hi Pryor,

    I’m a CALT and M.ED. And am searching for training in administering the CORE. Do you have any knowledge of training being offered on an individual basis?

    Many thanks,

    1. Since the CORE is not used for diagnostic purposes, one does not need formal training to administer it. I have found that the administration protocols are details and straightforward. Do you own the book, Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures? It should give you all the procedures, ceilings, etc needed for proper testing. I hope that helps!

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