Methods for Determining Students' Reading Level

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  • 0:01 Assessing Reading Level
  • 0:56 Group Reading Inventory
  • 2:35 Miscues
  • 3:45 Curriculum-Based Measurement
  • 4:57 Retelling
  • 5:48 Comprehension Think Aloud
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Assessment is essential. All students are at different reading levels and abilities. Watch this video lesson to learn ways to assess the reading level of your students.

Assessing Reading Level

A large part of being a reading teacher revolves around assessing your students' reading levels. Think about it; will your students learn anything at all if the reading material is way too difficult or too easy? Of course not!

There are numerous standardized tests in each state that evaluate student reading comprehension. Many of these determine if a student can move onto the next grade or even graduate. However, these tests mostly occur towards the end of the school year. How does that help you assess your students right now? Being with your students daily requires you to be constantly evaluating your students and determining where they stand. Only then can you design instruction that will optimize learning. The rest of this lesson will focus on strategies for evaluating your students' reading level.

Group Reading Inventory

The first method for assessing reading level in the classroom is called a group reading inventory. This method consists of a whole-class activity to give a general idea of the reading level of a specific reading material. First, choose a passage around 500 words. Next, prepare 10 to 20 questions on various reading concepts, like vocabulary, main ideas, details, or sequence. Depending on the grade you teach, these questions can be open-ended or multiple choice. Use your own discretion with this. As you create the questions, also create an answer key, identifying the reading concept for each question.

Then, give students the passage and use a stopwatch to record how long it takes the students to read the passage. The instructor can then take this time into consideration during instruction. When the students finish reading, have them answer the questions you created. Finally, collect the papers and score the answers. For each student, find the percent of correct questions. Ninety percent correct or higher means a student is an independent reader. A 60% to 89% means the student is at an instructional level, which means he might be able to grasp the material with instructional support from the teacher. Students scoring below that are at a frustration level, which means the material is too difficult. Look at the scores of your whole class to determine if the reading material is appropriate for their reading levels.


The next few strategies for assessing students' reading levels involve using miscues. These are verbal reading responses that vary from those expected. Simply speaking, miscues occur when a student makes a mistake while reading aloud. If you have already identified specific students with reading issues, miscues can be a great way to analyze those students one-on-one.

Substitution is an example of a miscue. This occurs when an incorrect word is spoken in place of the written word. For instance, saying 'when' when the word is 'want.' Other miscues include using a nonsense word, which is a word that does not exist, omission which is skipping the word, reversal, which is switching letters around, and insertion, which is inputting words that are not there. Have a student you are concerned about read aloud for you. Note the miscues. The frequency of different miscues can give you insight into a struggling reader's underlying problems.

Curriculum-Based Measurement

You can also use miscues to create a curriculum-based measurement. This measures the number of words a student reads correctly in one minute. To use CBM, choose a passage of about 600 words and have your student read the passage out loud. As he reads, mark any miscues that are made on your own copy of the passage. Also, include any observations about the miscues. For instance, was the mistake understandable? Did the student ask for help?

Have the student read for two minutes and make notes as he goes along. After the reading, count how many words the student read. Then subtract the number of miscues. So, if he read 100 words and made 10 miscues, you are left with 90 correct words. Then, divide this number by two to get how many words per minute the student reads fluently, which in this case would be 45. Compare this to your other students to see overall patterns. Over time, you can retest the student and see if the words per minute increases or decreases. You can also note how miscues have changed or remained the same.

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