How Do Teachers Assess a Child's Reading Skills?

The tools teachers use to determine how well a child is reading

teacher reading classroom
Teachers use various tools to determine kids' reading skills. Dean Mitchell/Getty Images

Here are three tools teachers commonly use to determine how well a child is reading:

1. Concepts About Print

As your child begins formal reading instruction, you may begin to hear about something called Concepts About Print (CAP) or Concepts of Print. You may even receive a paper outlining how well your child has done on her CAP assessment. Unfortunately, unless you know what Concepts About Print are, it's hard to know how well your child is doing or how you can support her learning.

Simply put, Concepts About Print are the things a student needs to know about books, letters, words, directionality, punctuation and other pre-reading skills in order to be a successful reader. The teacher performing the CAP Assessment will give your child a simple reader and ask her to do the following things:

  • Identify the front cover of the book.  
  • Identify the back cover of the book.
  • Show or point to the title of the book.
  • Show where to begin reading.
  • Use her finger to show which way to go as the teacher reads the page.
  • Show the teacher where to begin the next sentence.
  • Point to each word as it is read (also known as one-to-one word correspondence).
  • Point to the first and last words on the page.
  • Frame one word (then two words) between her index fingers.
  • Point to the first and last letters in a word.
  • Frame first one letter and then two letters in a word.
  • Name a few letters on the page that she recognizes.
  • Identify a capital (big) and lowercase (little) letter on the page.
  • Give the name or function of a period, question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, and comma.

Each correct identification or answer is worth one point for a possible total of 22 points, so your child's score will often be presented as  X/22 ( or X out of 22) points.

2. A Benchmark Book

A benchmark book is a book or set of books selected to assess a child's reading level. A benchmark book is typically a book a child has never read before and, in some reading programs, is set aside solely for the purpose of determining whether or not a student is able to read at a certain level. In this situation, each new level has a designated benchmark book. All students are assessed using the same benchmark book for each level.

3. A Running Record

A running record, or a reading record, is a reading assessment tool used by teachers to get a better grasp of a student's reading level and what types of errors he is making as he reads. Frequently used as part of the Reading Recovery program, a running record requires a student to read a benchmark book out loud to a teacher.

The teacher has a copy of the first 100 to 150 words of the text printed on a form and makes a check mark over each word the child reads correctly. Incorrect words are circled and a symbol is used to indicate what type of error was made. The form also allows for notations to indicate prosody, fluency and whether a student is self-correcting when he makes errors.

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