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Reading is a complex cognitive process of constructing linguistic meaning from written symbols. A reading assessment measures a student’s reading level by evaluating the different skills needed to read such as fluency, the ability to decode new words, and linguistic knowledge. Various reading tests examine each of the skills necessary to read successfully, and help determine a student’s strengths and weaknesses in order to provide more focused reading instruction.
A common type of reading assessment involves having a student read out loud with the teacher making notes of the mistakes he or she makes. The teacher also listens to how the student orally structures the sentences he or she is reading to see if the reading is fluent. A fluent reader looks at and produces sentences in natural chunks, while a reader who lacks fluency approaches words one by one or produces memorized words easily while stumbling over unfamiliar words.
By listening to a student sound out and attempt to pronounce new words, a reading assessment can test the student’s knowledge of the alphabet and of how various sounds are represented in writing. Some students just beginning to learn how to read might not comprehend texts well while concentrating on reading aloud, but by listening to how they work out different words and sounds, a teacher can get an idea of the decoding strategies the students are using and the areas they need to work on.
Another common type of reading assessment evaluates the student’s level of comprehension. This might be done by asking questions about a text or by having the student perform actions described in a text. Higher level comprehension tasks might involve critically evaluating texts for structure or meaning, developing interpretations of literary texts and linking them to other texts or real-world events, or finding underlying meanings such as irony or humor.
A reading assessment for childhood, adult, or second language learner literacy might also examine the student’s linguistic knowledge and breadth of vocabulary. Younger learners might not be able to understand new words because they lack the relevant life experience. More advanced readers might be able to decode an unfamiliar word but not know what it means. Some reading assessments examine the larger semantic context of new words by asking the student to provide a word with similar or opposite meaning as a highlighted word, or having the student summarize a text in his or her own words.