Assessing Fluency

Fluency in reading is like fluency in public speaking. Fluent speakers and readers embed in their voices accuracy in speech as well as appropriate speed, phrasing, and expression. When the speaker uses these elements, it makes it easier for the listener to understand. Speaking in appropriate phrases, emphasizing certain words, raising and lowering volume, and varying intonation all help the listener.

Fluent readers decode words accurately and automatically. At the automatic level, readers are able to decode words with minimal attention to decoding because they recognize the words instantly. They also make sense of the text as they read. When they use volume, tone, emphasis, phrasing, and other elements of oral expression, it means that they are interpreting and constructing meaning from the passage.

How fluency relates to ELLs

With the No Child Left Behind Act, it is both important and mandatory to assess English language learners' (ELLs) level of English language proficiency to determine their growth from year to year.

With ELLs, it is especially important to check not just for fluency, but for comprehension as well. Many ELLs can be deceptively fast and accurate in their reading because they are good readers in their primary language. Yet, they may demonstrate little understanding of the text. For ELLs, try not to provide instruction in fluency that focuses primarily on developing students' reading rates at the expense of reading with expression, meaning, and comprehension. Students may read fast, but with insufficient comprehension. Fluency without comprehension will require instructional intervention in vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Since fluency is multidimensional, it is important to teach and monitor the following skills:

  1. Accuracy in word decoding
  2. Rate (automatic recognition of words in connected text)
  3. Expressive and meaningful interpretation of text

The three dimensions of fluency can be assessed with the strategies below.

Assessing accuracy and rate in English

Accuracy can be assessed by the percentage of words a reader can read correctly. Informal reading inventories can use levels of performance charts such as:

  • Independent level: 98-100%
  • Instructional level: 90-97%
  • Frustration level: below 90%

Readers who score in the 97-100% range are able to read without assistance. Readers who score within the 90-96% range are able to read with some assistance by teachers. Readers who score below 90% in word accuracy find texts too challenging to read, even with assistance. They either need more vocabulary instruction and/or decoding skills, and, of course, comprehension skills once decoding and vocabulary are acquired.

Here is a quick way to measure both accuracy and rate. Accuracy refers to how well students use decoding skills. Rate is how many words they can accurately decode in one minute.

  1. Find a passage of approximately 250 words written at the student's grade placement level.
  2. Ask the student to read the passage for one minute. Tape-record the reading. Emphasize that the text should be read aloud in a normal way.
  3. Mark any uncorrected errors made by the student such as: mispronunciations, substitutions, reversals, omissions, or words pronounced by the examiner after a wait of two to three seconds without an attempt or response from the student. Mark the end point in the text after one minute of reading.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 with two different passages. Use the median or middle score for analysis.
  5. Divide the number of words read correctly per minute by the total number of words read. This number will be a percentage. Compare the student's performance against the following norms:
    1 10-3030-60

Assessing expressive reading

Expressive reading is more directly related to comprehension. Fluent readers read with stress, pitch variations, intonation, phrasing, and pausing in their voices. Rubrics are usually used to assess expression. You can listen to a student read for about sixty seconds and assess his or her overall reading proficiency and fluency through a scale such as the following:

4Reads primarily in larger, meaningful phrase groups. Some regressions, repetitions, and deviations from the text. Most of the story is read with expressive interpretation. Reads at an appropriate rate.
3Reads primarily in three and four word phrase groups. The majority of phrasing seems appropriate and preserves the syntax of the author. Little or no expressive interpretation is present. Generally reads at an appropriate rate.
2Reads primarily in two-word phrase groups. Some word-by-word reading may be present. Word groupings may seem awkward and unrelated to the larger context of the sentence or passage. Reads significant sections of the text excessively slowly or fast.
1Reads primarily word-by-word. Lacks expressive interpretation. Reads text excessively slowly or with excessive speed, ignoring punctuation and other phrase boundaries. Reads with little or no expression.

To help improve your students' expressive reading, model proper expressive reading yourself. Begin by reading a line from a story: "Now remember," Mother said, "your father and I are bringing guests by after the opera, so please keep the house neat."

Then discuss with your students: Did you hear how I grouped the words "Now remember"? That's because they go together. And then I paused a little before I read the words Mother said. This comma (pointing to the comma) told me to do that. Did you hear how my voice got louder and sounded like a mother's warning? Now, you read this again with me like I did.


aft shield logo
nea logo


This corresponds with my experience and the literature. Excellent article.

THE article has helped me. thank you

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.