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Reading Assessments To Evaluate Decoding and Encoding

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Whether it’s the beginning of the school year and you need to perform reading assessments, you’re working with a new student one-on-one, or you’re checking progress mid-year, there are a variety of reading assessments you can choose from to inform your instruction.

In this post, I’m sharing my top picks for reading assessments that evaluate decoding (reading) and encoding (writing/spelling).



The 4 Types of Assessments

  1. Screening assessments – Screeners are the most limited in the information they provide, but are the first type of assessment that should be done. They help us identify a problem area. Students who show a weakness in a screener would then be given a diagnostic assessment in the area they showed a weakness. The most common screeners are DIBELS, Aimsweb, and the ORF (oral reading fluency).
  2. Diagnostic assessments – Diagnostic assessments are follow up tests that break down the areas into specific skills and strategies. These are performed after a screener in the area that indicated a weakness, and the information they provde helps us identify and address the specific deficit. These are standardized assessments.
  3. Progress monitoring assessments – Progress monitoring assessments are typically adminsitered periodically to measure ongoing instruction. The information from these assessments tells us if our instruction is having the desired effect. These help us adjust instruction and improve learning.
  4. Outcome assessments – Outcome assessments measure the achievement of groups, such as classrooms, schools, and districts. They include high-stakes tests and other nationalized tests. These do not provide information that is specific enough to guide isntructional planning.

So, you should plan to use screeners, diagnostic assessments, and progress monitoring (in that order) to plan out your instruction. You also want to use the least amount of assessments possible so you need to be careful about which assessments you choose to evaluate reading skills.

What assessments you use will also depend on the grade level of your students and the time of year you plan on performing the assessment.

4 types of assessments defined graphic

Reading Assessments for Grades K-8

The following is a curated list of options for you to choose from. I am not saying you need to use them all, as some do the same thing. So check them out and choose the ones that align with your needs.

The first 5 assessments listed can be found in How to Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction, which happens to be an excellent resource for K-3 educators. The remaining assessments are free and linked in their descriptions.

Test of Letter Names (kindergarten) – This assessment asks students to name letters in isolation.

Test of Letter Sounds (kindergarten) – This assessment will show us if students can associate letters with the phonemes they represent.

Test of Fry Instant Words (K-1) – This assessment tests which high-frequency words students instantly recognize in isolation.

Informal Decoding Inventory (K-3) – This assessment targets phonological awareness, word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. It helps us determine the highest decoding skill set the child has attained in up to 2 syllable words. This can be used as a diagnostic measure and a for progress monitoring.

Test of Oral Reading Fluency (K-3) – This screening assessment determines the speed and accuracy of reading aloud grade-level text.

DIBELS (K-8) – This free decoding assessment measures oral reading fluency, letter naming fluency, phonemic segmentation fluency, nonsense word fluency, and word reading fluency up to grade 8. DIBELS can be used as a screener and has progress monitoring assessments. You can access the assessment materials for free here.

PAST (Phonological Awareness Screening Test) – For phonological awareness, the best one (and it’s FREE) is the PAST. This is a screener and a diagnostic test. You can access it here. Make sure to read the instructions before using it and practice a few times.

Core Phonics Survey – This is a basic phonics related assessment that can be used as a screener and outcome measure. You can access the assessment materials for free here.

Words Their Way Spelling Inventory – This diagnostic encoding assessment has a primary, elementary, and upper assessment. You can access the assessment materials for free here.

Which Assessements To Choose

You need to screen for decoding (phonological awareness and phonics) and encoding (spelling). I recommend the PAST for phonological awareness, Core Phonics Survey or DIBELS for phonics, and Words Their Way for spelling to satisfy this. But of course, you have to use what is available to you or required by your district or school.

For diagnostic reading assessments, the PAST, Words Their Way, and Informal Decoding Inventory are great choices.

elementary aged girl taking reading assessment

When To Give Reading Assessments

At the beginning of the school year, you want to use screeners to identify at-risk students. You would then follow up with diagnostic measures on students who showed a weakness in the screener. All of the reading assessments listed above would satisfy this requirement.

With this information, you can then group students to work on specific areas they need.

You also want to repeat the screening assessment for all students in the middle of the school year. A student who may not have been at risk at the beginning of the year may be struggling later on.

Progress monitoring assessments will likely be teacher-made evaluations, or even specific sections of some of the tests listed above like a few words from the Fry list or the vowel team section of a phonics test.

You want to perform progress monitoring on a regular basis, preferably every 1-3 weeks, to inform your instruction and adjust as needed. These can be informal and take just minutes, and are more for instant feedback on one specific area. The traditional spelling test, a lesson quiz, an exit slip, or a quick task on the target skill would be examples of a progress monitoring assessment.

when to give reading assessments graphic

What to do with the information you gain from assessments

I have heard from many educators that they get stuck at this point, not knowing what to do with all the data.

This document from the International Dyslexia Association Pennsylvania is fantastic for this, showing you what needs to be addressed for specific deficits identified in your assessments. Using that document, you can find the area you need to target and plan your instruction and assessment accordingly.

If you struggle with grouping students, I strongly suggest you get a copy of How to Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction. I promise you will not regret that decision!

Remember to use a systematic approach to addressing weaknesses. If you see a student has deficits in reading comprehension and phonics, starting with reading comprehension will not help, as phonics needs to be mastered for reading comprehension to take place. If a student can’t read the words on the page, how will comprehension happen?

The same goes for a weakness in oral reading fluency. You need to determine why there is a weakness and start there. Which specific phonics skills are causing this weakness? The diagnostic test will tell you this so you’ll know exactly where to start.

Bottom Line

Choosing your reading assessments takes careful planning and is important for you to be an effective educator. Assessing students’ decoding and encoding skills properly provides invaluable information to guide your instruction and improve their reading skills.

Once you know what you’re working with, be sure you’re set up for success. Put up your sound wall, do your daily phonemic awareness and phonogram drills, and ensure you’re using effective research-based methods that teach students how to read.


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reading assessments for decoding and encoding

If you’re looking for more tips on teaching reading to struggling learners, check out these other posts:

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