Assessing Adult Readers: Considerations & Tools

Instructor: Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

This lesson illustrates the adult reader needs and how assessments play a vital role in their development. We will look at four different assessment tools - alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension.


Adult education can be a very rewarding experience for both the educator and the adult learner. As an educator, you are teaching someone skills that can drastically change lives. Someone with no or little reading and writing skills is considered to be an unskilled worker. Unskilled workers are generally limited to small waged jobs with repetitive tasks. It can even be difficult for non- and low-level readers to get jobs at fast food restaurants since basic reading and writing skills are required for health and safety compliance. As a result, many low-level readers are unemployed or do physical labor.

In teaching adult readers, assessment is a crucial first step. Reading assessment requires active and immediate feedback. These assessments also help the teacher to adapt instruction quickly and appropriately. Evaluating adult readers can be a delicate task. An individual with basic reading skills often has a low education level and comes from a lower socio-economic background. Because adult reading learners may already feel insecure about their weaknesses, it is important to master the skill of providing feedback that will motivate and not discourage.

Assessment Design

There are five basic tenets of reading instruction: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary and assessment. Assessment is used to measure skills in the other four areas using formal tools including standardized testing, reading comprehension of books, documents or work-related material. Informal assessments could also include daily tasks like reading road signs or recipes.

Assessment is a crucial first step in reading instruction in order to gauge the learner's needs. The Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) measures reading levels with activities on recognition, word meaning, reading strategies and comprehension. The Cloze Procedure uses a passage with missing words to measure fluency, spelling, sequencing and reading comprehension. The Needs Assessment is an observational assessment that measures the other four elements individually.

Alphabetics Assessments

Alphabetics is the process of using graphemes (written letters) and phonemes (basic sounds) to form words. Readers do this through phonemic awareness and word analysis. Adult reading learners may be unfamiliar with this process, in which case, it would be necessary to teach letter-sound knowledge (alphabetics). Alphabetics instruction and assessments happen simultaneously and orally. The teacher gives the students letter-sound strategies and assesses them on how they apply those strategies. For example, the teacher spells out a word and ask the student to identify that word.

Fluency Assessments

Fluency is the ability to read quickly while understanding the meaning of the text. The teacher first observes the learner reading out loud, making the first assessment observational. The teacher measures how many words are read correctly, rhythm and flow. The second assessment is usually a standard test that measures how long it took the reader to read a text.

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