Now that students I've watched students' reading behaviors I have a good idea what level to use for the assessment. Sometimes I have to go up or down a level. It is easy to know if the passage is too hard. If they are stumbling over words with out attempting to correct miscues I know they are not monitoring for sense. I stop the reading and select a book or passage that is one level easier. Knowing if they can read a harder passage is trickier. It depends on what level I've tested them at and how much time I have. If they are at RST or above- I usually do not retest them because I let them choose in that band and confer with them about their book and read their post-its. This lets me know how well they are comprehending the new skills at the level. If a student doesn't seem interested in the book and are not able to talk about the sub plots, identify how the character respond to small problems, understand what the story is really about, I suggest they need to choose an easier book.
In this example I am assessing an emergent reader at a level J. He makes a lot of miscues- but gets the gist of the story. I decide to test him at an I to identify the his strengths and to get more data to analyze. I do this so I can design specialized instruction for him and others who have the same needs.
I use the leveled assessments on the Teacher College website. I have a file set up with all the levels run off. I have about ten at each level. The are two passages at each level to choose from. I started the student at a J level, reading a short story titled Punched Paper. If you are testing at Levels A through K, the student reads in a book for that level. Students read from a one to two page excerpt for Levels L-Z. Teachers have a copy of the text and complete a running record of the entire text in Levels A- K; for Levels L-Z you just do a running record on the first 100 words, then the student continues silent reading the rest of the excerpt.
The text or passage is introduced with a short description to set the stage for the reading. Directions for the administration and coding of the running record are included on the website. Analysis of the kinds of miscues fall into three areas: meaning, syntax, or visual.
If a student makes more than 4 miscues that are not self-corrected in a 100 word passage, their accuracy score will be less than 96% and the text is considered to challenging for independent reading.
After I heard the student read at the J level, I decided to have him read one level easier- at the I level. The story he read aloud to me is titled, I'm Heading to the Rodeo. Here is a running record form of the text.
The student was not able to accurately retell this story. He knew who it was about and got the general idea but not understand the girl was thinking and imagining that she was at a rodeo as she was getting ready for school and riding with her mom in the truck.
He remembered a few events but not in order. He correctly answered 2 out of 4 of the questions at the end of the story. One literal and one inferential. His accuracy level was 90%. He made 7 errors on the first page and 6 errors on the second page. A student needs at least a 96% accuracy to pass a level. Reading researchers say the closer to 100% the better. The good new is after I stopped him on page 18 and said, "What?" (The first time he read page 18 he said, "I jump right on and rode with the speed to meet the finger goat.) He reread the page and corrected all of his miscues. (I jump right on and ride with speed to meet the frightened goat.") Most of the time when he comes to any word that is not one of the first 50 high frequency words, he is using only visual cues- usually just the first letter and then guessing. I imagine this is a strategy he has adopted along the way because he missed so much school, moved around a lot and reading does not come easy to him for a multitude of reasons.
After observing and testing him, I recommend that he reads independently at a level H for a while. Reading independently at a level H will be challenging for this student because he is a fifth grader and level H books are very simplistic. But the good thing is I have two other students who are at the same level so they will make a great strategy group.
This student is new to our school. He has moved around a lot. He is very bright and could easily learn to read with proper instruction focused on phonics, word work, and tons of reading in just right books. He has two little sisters and he could improve his reading (and theirs by reading 5-6 level books each night. He doesn't pay much attention to vowels in words. He needs lots of small group guided reading lessons to improve his decoding skills and to monitor his comprehension.