Summary of a Basic Reading Assessment

Reading assessments are standard fare.
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Reading assessments measure student progress and ensure students are working at grade level in terms of reading skills. They are also used in planning of curriculum and instruction, to diagnose reading strengths and weaknesses, and to determine student placement into the classes at the appropriate skill level. Most public K-12 schools administer reading assessments at third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades, and in anticipation of high school graduation. Many colleges use placement testing.

1 What Are Reading Skills?

Reading skills are a set of cognitive competencies that are used to understand text. While the skills stay the same, a reader’s ability to use them develops over time and with practice. The reading skills commonly tested are vocabulary, literal comprehension, interpretive ability and critical reading.

2 What Is Being Assessed?

Reading assessments test the reader’s knowledge of word meaning and literal comprehension. Literal comprehension is knowledge of the facts in any type of text. For example, it is being able to identify who, what, when and where in a literary passage or news article.

As students mature in age and reading practice, their abilities to interpret, infer and reason about the text will also be tested. This is a measurement of how and why characters are motivated and why events in a story take place, and of the reader’s ability to find ideas and meaning in any story, informational text, chart or graph. Critical reading is also measured -- the ability to evaluate the information in the text.

3 Reading Assessment Content

Reading assessments require students to read a broad range of types of text. Most K-12 grade-level assessments include charts and graphs, visual texts such as maps, informational texts like newspaper articles, job announcements or sets of instructions, and literary passages or poems. Students are required to identify meanings of vocabulary as it’s used in context, and to identify the correct definition of words when given several choices. In middle school and beyond, students are asked to identify root words, homonyms and synonyms and types of writing devices such as persuasion, similes and foreshadowing.

4 How Tests Are Administered

Reading assessments are given on paper or a computer. Some test have only multiple choice questions. Some tests include questions that require a short-answer response, such as a one- or two-line answer. Sometimes, a longer written response is required, though it is rarely more than a paragraph. The full range of reading skills can be tested in either format.

Neva Knott is an environmental journalist and photographer living in Olympia, Wash. In 1991, she co-founded "Plazm" magazine, an arts, design and culture publication based in Portland, Ore. Knott is also an English teacher and a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.