Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
Have you ever sat down and read with a child? You may have noticed their rate, accuracy, and tempo were a bit off. Why is this? Reading is a nuanced skill that requires students to use several components. Successful readers are able to read the words correctly at an even pace. They need to have a well-developed prosody level, things like pitch, tempo, and intonation.
Readers need to do more than say words when they read. Their ability to read with accuracy, a good rate, and expression, otherwise known as fluency, is necessary for students to comprehend. If a student reads in a choppy, too-slow, or uneven pace, it can take away from their ability to comprehend. When readers are fluent they read words by sight while keeping an even pace and paying attention to text, not pausing to decode words.
How do teachers know whether their students are doing all these things during reading? Luckily, there's actually a whole toolbox of assessments to determine a student's accuracy, rate, and prosody level. Let's take a look.
Measuring Accuracy and Rate
The speed at which a student reads is considered the reading rate, while accuracy refers to the number of words read correctly. Typically, educators measure these two skills at the same time. The most common way to do this is to give an Oral Fluency Assessment (OFA).
An OFA is used to measure the number of words a student correctly reads in one minute, referred to as word count per minute, or WCPM. A pre-leveled text is read by a student and their performance can determine the student's accuracy and rate, or the amount of words accurately read per minute. Let's see an example.
Oral Fluency Assessment
Blake is a seasoned teacher who specializes in reading instruction. He asks one of his students, Adam, to sit down in a quiet part of the classroom. Blake has selected three texts for Adam to read from, each on Adam's grade level. If Adam struggles with these texts, or reads with obvious fluency and no errors, Blake is prepared to adjust the level with alternate texts. Blake asks Adam to begin reading aloud and starts timing at his first word. Blake watches the text as Adam reads to monitor for accuracy. Adam reads the 300-word section fluently without any errors.
Blake then repeats the process with another student, Elana. Elana reads the 300-word section but says many of the words incorrectly. Blake records these incorrect words, or miscues. When the minute is up, he counts the number of words read correctly. He repeats this process with two other books, then takes the median score to determine accuracy and reading rate.
Calculating Oral Fluency
Blake uses an OFA to measure reading officially three times a year. In the time in between, he measures a student's accuracy throughout the year to determine if his students are making progress. He uses the same procedure, but instead of limiting the time, he allows the student to complete a small book or passage. He still keeps track of total words read and miscues, then uses the following formula to determine accuracy:
(total words read - total errors) / total words read, x 100 to get a percentage
For example, Adam read a book that had 120 words and miscued 24 times. That equation will look like this:
120 - 24 = 96
96 / 120 = 0.8
0.8 x 100 = 80%
Blake then knows Adam is reading that level with 80% accuracy.
A few other tests that measure oral fluency are DIBELS, Gray Oral Reading Test, and the Curriculum Based Measure. These systems measure and assess oral reading growth over time much in the same way an OFA does.
To measure prosody, teachers can use a tool that scales a student's level of phrasing and expression when reading aloud. Like the oral fluency assessments we just saw, students read samples of text and their performance is rated on a scale of 1-4. Take a look at the criteria in the table below. As you can see, levels 4 and 3 are considered fluent and 2 and 1 considered non-fluent, with the former two involving complete sentences of at least three or four words and the latter two being choppy and even bordering on incoherent.
|4 - Fluent||Student reads in larger, consistent, expressive phrases with no distracting repetitions|
|3 - Fluent||Student reads in short phrases of 3-4 words with some expression and repetitions|
|2 - Non-fluent||Student reads mostly 2- to 3-word phrases in choppy tone|
|1 - Non-fluent||Student reads mostly word-by-word with little to no tone|
This process is less scientific and relies more on subjective observations of a student's reading. There is less information available for educators in terms of what level of prosody is 'on level.' For example, an early emergent reader in first grade will typically score low on a fluency scale due to the limited sight word vocabulary. These young children are learning other valuable skills.
Instead, these assessments can help a teacher focus instruction on what each individual student needs to make progress to the next level. Measuring a student's rate, accuracy, and prosody paints a picture of a student's reading ability.
Let's review. To be successful readers, students need accuracy, a steady pace, and a well-developed level of prosody, or pitch, tempo, and intonation. Teachers measure these levels of fluency, which is the ability to read with accuracy, a good rate, and expression, by using different tools. These tools include things such as an Oral Fluency Assessment (OFA). This measure of accuracy, or the number of words read correctly, and rate, or the speed at which a student reads, has students use leveled text to read orally for one minute while the teacher tracks their error rate.
Measuring prosody uses an oral reading component as well but isn't quite as straight-forward. Oral fluency is an important component of reading that impacts comprehension. A teacher will listen to a student read and measure the performance against criteria on a 1-4 scale. These measurements give teachers valuable information about oral fluency that they can use to plan lessons to support future success.
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