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Running Records: How to Assess Your Child’s Reading Level

Running Records: How to Assess Your Child’s Reading Level

By Chelsea McLeod

Reading is a fundamental skill; it is an essential building block that supports all other types of learning. If reading is not developed, a child will struggle with other things in their schooling experience, which is just as crucial in a homeschool environment as in a traditional one. Therefore, while we all know that teaching our children to read is vital to their proper development and learning, it can be overwhelming to dive into and assess.

Running Records: Assess reading


Determining reading level is an integral part of the learning journey. Your learner should be reading differently levelled books depending on what situation they find themselves in. When reading on their own, they should be reading at an independent level, but when reading with you and learning, they should be reading at an instructional level.  An excellent tool used to assess reading levels is called a Running Record. This type of assessment can give a lot of information about your child’s reading skills; a running record can provide a whole picture of your child’s reading, what level they are reading at and how to move forward in teaching them. 

What is A Running Record?

A running record is a great tool to assess your learner as a reader. It is a snapshot of their reading. A running record evaluates a student’s word identification skills and fluency level. These are essential pieces of the puzzle of building strong, confident readers. Completing a running record involves writing down everything happening in the order it happens. Limiting the amount of editing you do as an observer as you record is essential. The idea is to record as much as possible so that you can gather a lot of information in a relatively short period and perform this type of assessment without much prep time. 

Choosing a Passage 

When completing a running record, ideally, both the observer/teacher and the learner/student view a copy of a passage. Also, because this is a tool often used for assessment purposes, the passage being read should be new to the student. When ready, the student reads his/her passage out loud; the instructor records any errors on their copy.  It is also important to time the student for one minute to measure reading fluency, and finally, the instructor calculates reading accuracy. If your learner/reader can read a section from a book of choice with an accuracy between 90-95%, then that passage would be a great choice to use for a running record.

To calculate accuracy, you will need to have them read 50-100 words from the text. Then count their errors as they read. Finally, subtract the number of mistakes they made from the total number of words in the passage. When you have this total, you divide this number by the total number of words. For example, if the passage has a total of 50 words and they made five errors, 45 words are correct (50 – 5 = 45). Then, 45 divided by 50 times 100 (45/50 = 0.9 x 100 = 90) is 90. Therefore, the reading accuracy is 90%. 

Running record


How Running Records Can Help Guide Instruction

Running records can give you real-time insight into your learner’s strengths and struggles, which can help point you to what they need to work on. The information gathered from this type of assessment can be used to determine if your current reading instruction methods are effective concerning word identification and fluency; if the time spent on reading instruction in your homeschool day is enough, and finally, if any other areas require further assessment or if more focused intervention is necessary. Therefore once completed, you should be able to create a more well-rounded picture of what you are doing well, what needs more attention and how to proceed during your reading instruction time.

How To Complete A Running Record

First, you need to sit down with your learner, and you both need to have a copy of the passage to be read. You can use a typed copy on white paper or get free templates for this purpose, like this one. Second, since a running record is not a standardized assessment, you can mark the information in any way that makes sense. 


Here are examples of some of the common coding that you can use:

  • Incorrect word or mispronunciation – write the word said above the printed word
  • Inserted word – draw an arrow where the word was inserted and write in the word inserted above
  • Omitted word -draw a line through the skipped word
  • Self-corrected word – write the word said above the printed word and write SC over it. Or I place a slash mark after the word and SC beside that. 
  • Repetitions – underline the word or phrase that was repeated however many times it was repeated.

Finally, some of us like to check off each word that is read correctly. Some of us have an easier time following along and being present when doing this during the assessment. Also, be sure to time the passage and include a mark after 1 minute of reading. You can use a slash mark or a straight line after the last word read at one minute. This will provide the student’s fluency rate when you are completing your final calculations.


How to Calculate and Assess

When counting errors, it is common practice that mispronunciations, repetitions, and self-corrections are not included in the error count. Repeated errors are calculated as follows; for example, if the child always says “to” every time they come to the word “the” in the passage, this is only counted as a single error. When you have all the mistakes tallied up, you will calculate the reader’s Accuracy (Please see above).

Once you have an Accuracy percentage, you can calculate the fluency rate. Look at where you marked the passage after the 1-minute timer, then count all the words that were read before this mark. For example, if there were 100 words before this mark, the student reads 100 words per minute. Reading comprehension is also essential to reading skills but is assessed separately. 

Running Record: Assess

Deciphering the Final Results 

Now that you have your reader’s accuracy, you can determine their reading level. As stated during the opening of this piece, a learner must be reading at an independent level when they are reading alone. This is a book at a level they can read with 95% accuracy and above. This is because they need to read fluently (without interruptions) and with minimal word decoding to clearly understand the text and comprehend the message they are reading.

If there are too many misunderstood words, they may not get the intended meaning when they are reading with you, during the homeschool day or whenever they can read a more challenging text that falls into the Instructional level. This is usually a text they can read with 90-94% accuracy. This is because they now have the added benefit of reading with a partner who can fill in the missing pieces or answer the questions that come up when they do not know all the words they are coming across. If a book or text falls under 90% accuracy for your learner, it is too complicated and should be set aside until they are better prepared to read it. 

Lastly, once you have determined your child’s reading level, you can better cater your teaching to their needs. You can also look at the marks you made on the running record to determine if there are any patterns to their mistakes. For example, if they are continually having trouble with double consonants or the long o sound. You can use this data to inform your next steps during your teaching day. Hopefully, this has been informative, and you feel better prepared to assess your learner. Happy Reading!


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