Assessment Tips

Running Records

You can do leveled reading assessment by taking a running record using a book that you believe is close to the child’s developmental level. The running record allows you to record a child’s reading behavior as he or she reads from the book. Reading A-Z provides benchmark books for this purpose. A running record form accompanies each of the benchmark books.

Running records can be taken on a book that has never been seen by the reader or one that has been read once or twice. There are conflicting views on this issue. At Reading A-Z, we believe that using a book that has not been previously read will give a more accurate measure of a child’s ability to handle text at the assessed level. For this reason, we provide a benchmark book at each level. Of course, you can always opt to read the book before doing a running record if you believe in using previously read text for your running record.

You can analyze the results of your running record assessment to gain insights into a child’s reading and to assign children to the appropriate developmental level for their leveled reading sessions.

Taking a running record improves with experience. With practice, you will get better at doing them. Don’t be too hard on yourself during the first few attempts.

The Running Record Form

There are two distinct parts to the assessment: the running record and a comprehension check. When you perform a running record, simply use the symbols and marking conventions explained in Table 1 below to record a child’s reading behavior as he or she reads from the book. When the session is complete, calculate the reading rate, error rate, and self-correction rate, and enter them in the boxes at the bottom of the page. Scroll ahead to the Scoring section, which appears under Scoring and Analyzing Running Records, to see formulas for calculating these rates.

Before using the running record form, familiarize yourself with the following terms:

Errors (E)
Errors are tallied during the reading whenever a child does any of the following:
  • Substitutes another word for a word in the text
  • Omits a word
  • Inserts a word
  • Has to be told a word by the person administering the running record

Self-correction (SC)
Self-correction occurs when a child realizes his or her error and corrects it. When a child makes a self-correction, the previous substitution is not scored as an error.
The reader uses phonics to decode the words being read. Phonics skills vary by age, grade, and instruction. Younger readers may not have experience with long vowels and may read all words with a short vowel sound. This should be noted so the teacher knows this child is ready for long vowel phonics lessons.
Morphemes are the smallest units of words that have meaning and cannot be divided further. The most common mophemes are root words and affixes. A reader may use their knowledge of a word root and affixes to determine the pronunciation and meaning of the word read.
Some readers use this skill when they are attempting to read very quickly or if they have developed a habit of skimming as they read. For instance, if the word is ran but the reader says ‘runned’, this would indicate the reader is not attending to the graphemes in the word but rather trying to make sense as they read. Or, the reader does not know the word and rather than attempt to decode makes a guess.

How Often to Take a Running Record
Running records are taken with greatest frequency at the earlier stages of reading. Children not progressing at the expected rate should be assessed even more frequently than the schedule suggested below.

  • Emergent readers (Levels aa through G): every 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Upper emergent readers (Levels H through K): every 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Early fluent readers (Levels L through O): every 6 to 8 weeks
  • Fluent readers (Levels P and beyond): every 8 to 10 weeks

How to Take a Running Record

  • Select a book that approximates the child’s reading level. Explain to the child that he or she will read out loud as you observe and record his or her reading behavior.
  • With the running record form in hand, sit next to the child so that you can see the text and the child’s finger and eye movements as he or she reads the text.
  • As the child reads, mark each word on the running record form by using the symbols on the chart that follows. Place a check mark above each word that is read correctly.
  • If the child reads incorrectly, record above the word what the child reads.
  • If the child is reading too fast for you to record the running record, ask him or her to pause until you catch up.
  • Be sure to pay attention to the reader’s behavior as he or she reads. Is the child using meaning (M), structural (S), and visual (V) cues to read words and gather meaning?
  • Intervene as little as possible while the child is reading.
  • If the child is stuck and unable to continue, wait 5 to10 seconds and tell him or her the word. If the child seems confused, indicate the point of confusion and say, “Try again.”

Analyzing and Scoring a Running Record

Qualitative Analysis
The qualitative analysis is based on observations that you make during the running record. It involves observing how the child uses the meaning (M), structural (S), and visual (V) cues to help him or her read. It also involves paying attention to fluency, intonation, and phrasing. Think back to the prompts you offered and how the child responded to the prompts. All of these things help you to form a picture of the child’s reading development.

The information gathered while doing a running record is used to determine error, accuracy, and self-correction rates. Directions for calculating these rates are given below. The calculated rates, along with qualitative information and the child’s comprehension of the text, are used to determine a child’s reading level.

Error Rate
Error rate is expressed as a ratio and is calculated by dividing the total number of words read by the total number of errors made.
Total words / total errors = Error rate
TW / E = ER

120 / 6 = 20
The ratio is expressed as 1:20. This means that for each error made, the child read 20 words correctly.

Accuracy Rate
Accuracy rate is expressed as a percentage. You can calculate the accuracy rate by using the following formula:
(Total words read – total errors) / total words read x 100 = Accuracy rate.
(TW - E) / TW x 100 = AR
(120 – 6) / 120 x 100 = Accuracy rate
114/120 x 100 = Accuracy rate
.95 x 100 = 95%

You can use accuracy rate to determine whether the text read is easy enough for independent reading, difficult enough to warrant instruction yet avoid frustration, or too difficult for the reader. The breakdown of these three categories is as follows:

Category description Accuracy rate range
Easy enough for independent reading 95 – 100%
Instructional level for use in leveled reading session. 90 – 94%
Too difficult and will frustrate the reader 89% and below

Self-correction Rate
Self-correction is expressed as a ratio and is calculated by using the following formula:

(Errors + self-correction) / self-correction = Self-correction rate
(E + SC) / SC = SC rate

(10 + 5) / 5 = SC
15 / 5 = SC
3 = SC

The SC is expressed as 1:3. This means that the child corrects 1 out of every 3 errors.

If a child is self-correcting at a rate of 1:3 or less, this indicates that she or he is self-monitoring her or his reading.

After the Reading

After the child reads the benchmark book and you record a running record, have the child do an oral retelling of the story. Ask the child to close the book and then tell you about the story in as much detail as she or he can remember. If the child has difficulty retelling parts of the story or remembering certain details, you can use prompts such as "Tell me more about (character x)" or "What happened after…." Analyze the retelling for information the child gives about the following:

  • Characters
  • Main idea and supporting detail
  • Sequence of events
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Problem and solution
  • Response to text-specific vocabulary and language

Retelling Checklist

  • Can the child tell you what happened in the story or what the factual book was about in his or her own words?
  • Does the child include details about the characters in the retelling? Can she or he explain the relationships between the characters?
  • Can the child describe the setting? How detailed is the description?
  • Can the child recall the events of the story, and can he or she place them in the correct sequence?
  • Can the child identify the problem and the resolution?
  • Does the child use vocabulary from the text?
  • Does the child’s retelling demonstrate minimal, adequate, or very complete and detailed understanding of the text?

Student Talk
After the reading, talk to the child about some of the things he or she did during the reading. Reinforce and praise certain behavior with comments and questions that focus on specific behaviors. For example, after the child reads the text, you might focus on a self-correction and ask, "How did you know it was people and not persons?"

Observation Checklist
In addition to the things revealed by the running record and retelling, there are other behaviors you should also be looking for. The things you should look for will vary with the reading level. They include the following:

  • Does the child have mastery of directionality, one-to-one correspondence, return sweep, etc.?
  • Did the errors made by the child make sense or sound right?
  • Did the child attempt to self-correct?
  • Did the child use the meaning, structure, and visual cues to identify words and get meaning from the text? Did he or she use them in an integrated way, or did he or she rely heavily on one particular source of information?
  • Did the child make an attempt to read a word before asking you to help?
  • How was the child’s fluency? Did she or he just word-call?
  • Did the child seem to recognize phrases?
  • Were there many pauses? Were the pauses lengthy?
  • How was the child’s expression or intonation?

Assessing children’s reading progress is key to moving them along at the proper developmental rate. The combination of information gained from the analysis of a running record, qualitative analysis, and analysis of a child’s retelling will help you select the appropriate books for your children’s reading levels. Remember, it does the reader little good to be placed at a reading level that is too difficult for him or her. Running records will help you match children with the appropriate level of reading materials.