Assessing Reading


The primary purpose of all assessment is to improve student learning.

Assessment is the process of:

  • Gathering information from a variety of sources
  • Providing students with descriptive feedback for future development

Assessment should allow you to pinpoint what a student can do, cannot do yet and the next steps for learning.  This information should be shared with students in a timely fashion (feedback).  If it is not worthy of timely and specific feedback, it’s not worthy of assigning in the first place.  The information should also inform your future instructional plans.

Reading Assessment in the Primary Grades

Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA) or PM Benchmarks

Most school districts in Ontario use either DRA or PM Benchmarks for students in the primary grades.  They have very similar components which assess fluency, comprehension, reading quantity and quality, level of text, and attitudes and interests in response to what students are reading.  Both systems enable teachers to conduct a “running record” with a student in order to determine the student’s “level” of reading, strengths, and needs.  This information is used to plan for instruction as the teacher assesses what skills need to be developed and considers how they will be developed, i.e. through shared or guided reading.  Running records are typically done at least three times a year for each student.  Other assessment tools might include reading logs, conferences, interviews, surveys, questioning and the use of dramatic strategies such as choral reading and reader’s theatre.

Components of DRA/PM Benchmarks

  • Oral reading (running record)
  • Reading Strategies
  • Comprehension

Running Records

Running records can be used for diagnostic, formative and summative assessment.
Remember that the running record is a form of assessment and as such is not, on its own, enough evidence for evaluation purposes.

  • A running record is an efficient and effective way to record independent reading behaviours.
  • Running records provide a “window” through which the teacher may observe the cues and strategies an individual student uses when engaged in oral reading.

A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading, Kindergarten to Grade 3, 2003, p.12.27

The running record, developed by Marie Clay, is a reliable assessment tool used by teachers to systematically record observations of a student’s oral reading using a set of standard conventions or notations.  They are used by classroom teachers to record reading behaviours of individual students in Kindergarten to Grade 3. 

Although it takes time to assess each student individually, a single running record is a rich source of assessment information. When running records are administered at intervals over a period of time, they are able to document what an individual student has learned on an ongoing basis.

A Running Record Recording Sheet includes:

  • A series of symbols for recording
    • accuracies,
    • errors,
    • assistance provided by the teacher, and
    • self-corrections
  • A means of calculating a student’s reading accuracy and self-corrections rates

The PM Benchmark Reading and Assessment Records, by Nelson, 2003, found below guide teachers in assessing a student's reading level. See the sample where the teacher has noted the errors right on the Reading Record and has recorded the number of miscues and self-corrections the child has made. The child made 8 errors and one self-correction, scoring 96.5%, which indicates that this book, at Level 27, can be read independently by the child.

In the next sample, the teacher uses the Assessment Record sheet to assess the child's comprehension. The child is required to retell or summarize the main ideas in the text, as well as to recall, infer and respond to the text.

Administering DRA/PM Benchmarks

The teacher works with individual students and follows the procedure outlined below:

  • introduce the text;
  • record observations;
  • calculate the number of errors;
  • calculate the number of self-corrections;
  • calculate the reading accuracy rates and self-correction ratios;
  • analyze the running record;
  • check for comprehension.

After data collections and calculations have been completed, the teacher analyses the running record.

There are three levels of analysis of the running record: text level, reading cues (M,S,V) and reading strategies. 

  • Appropriate Text Level
  • Reading Cues
  • Reading Strategies

95-100% correct

  • A student who is reading a text at this level of accuracy can read other texts at this level independently.
  • Independent reading level

A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading: Kindergarten to Grade 3, 2003 p.12.50

This is often referred to as the student’s independent reading level and children needs many opportunities to practice and consolidate their learning by reading these books.

The independent reading level means that students can read a text at 95-100%
accuracy, strategically and with fluency.

90-94% correct

  • Texts being read at this level of accuracy are suitable for guided reading.
  • Guided Reading Level

A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading: Kindergarten to Grade 3, 2003, p.12.50

During guided reading the teacher can observe and assist the student as he or she independently applies reading strategies.

Less than 90%

  • Texts being read at this level of accuracy are not suitable for guided or independent reading but can be used where more teacher support is given.
  • Shared Reading or Read Alouds

A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading: Kindergarten to Grade 3, 2003, p.12.50

Students’ listening comprehension is usually higher than their reading comprehension.  Hence more difficult text is appropriate for shared reading.

Cueing Systems (more on cueing systems)

M         Meaning:  Does it make sense? (semantic)
S         Structure:  Does it sound right? (syntactic)
V         Visual:  Does it look right? (graphophonic)   

Reading errors and self-corrections are coded by the cues the child uses to produce the substitution or omission: meaning, structure or visual.

Information can be used to:

  • guide the teaching program (read aloud, shared, guided and independent)
  • determine the text level for the student to read in both guided and independent reading;
  • build a cumulative record of each student’s progress;
  • provide data for evaluation of achievement in reading.

Students who are reading at the earliest levels, are fluent readers or English language learners require an analysis of the running records that reflects their particular situation.  For these students, teachers need to gather other assessment data to supplement the running record.  For example, the fluent reader may have more advanced silent reading skills or may read too quickly for an accurate running record to be taken. A lack of English vocabulary and background knowledge impacts on the reading comprehension of English language learners, so the running record data may lead to different teaching for these individuals.

To learn more about running records, access the running records module at

Reading Assessment in the Junior Grades


C – Comprehension
A – Attitude
S – Strategies
I – Interests

Interview with Amy John (grade 6 teacher) about CASI.

In a traditional model of teaching reading, teachers assigned a text, asked questions, expected specific right or wrong responses and marked them - Interrogate, Respond, Evaluate (IRE).  This model is teacher-centred and only involves two participants at a time (the teacher and one student). 

The new model takes into consideration other things that affect a student’s reading response/comprehension. Not just what they know, but how they feel about certain genres, their attitude towards reading and what interests them, as well as equipping them with the strategies to be successful readers

Because reading takes place in the head, the process is not directly observable.  It is a complex process.  As a result we often rely on written responses to show us what a student knows and understands.  C.A.S.I. helps to look beneath the surface to give the teacher information about a student’s reading comprehension abilities and suggests teaching strategies to support them.

Why C.A.S.I.?

  • C.A.S.I. is a comprehensive assessment of reading comprehension in the four categories
  • C.A.S.I. identifies student strengths and learning needs
  • C.A.S.I. informs and supports program planning

The purpose of CASI is to diagnose each student’s strengths and learning needs and to provide appropriate programming for students and to chart their growth as readers.  CASI includes several assessment tools and is meant to be used in conjunction with assessment practices already in place, including observations, read alouds, conferences, response journals, artwork, dramatic presentations and other classroom assessments. 

CASI is only a broad brush look at comprehension and cannot replace other reading assessments such as running records or miscue analysis

CASI consists of:
Reading Passages

  • 10 reading passages per grade
  • 5 fiction and 5 non fiction
  • 8 comprehension questions for each reading passage – 1 multiple choice

Administering C.A.S.I.

There are three things to take into consideration when administering C.A.S.I. 

  • Group size
  • Time Allotment
  • Reading passage selection      

Unlike DRA/PM Benchmarks, C.A.S.I. is administered to many students at the same time. 

In selecting a reading passage, teachers need to consider the reading levels of students who are on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or students who are English language learners.  While it is acceptable to use a lower grade C.A.S.I. for these students, teachers must also be aware that this is not always effective for certain students as the interest or content might not be compatible.