The PM Benchmark reading assessment tool uses numerical levels 1-30. Each Level is accompanied by one book and a running record sheet with a sample of about 100 words for educators to assess fluency, accuracy, and a small section for comprehension. The book collection includes fiction and non-fiction books on various subjects.
Other than the limited selection of books, the books themselves raise many problems. Some of the books seem like “fake books” (words printed on the inside of the front and back covers with no pages). The books often don’t show an author or illustrator and aren’t anything like the books you would find in a bookstore, or the books they would read for fun.
Can one book on a randomly selected topic accurately show how fluent and accurate a reader is? The simple answer is no, interest in the book topic matters much more in reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension than we may think. They are much more likely to make meaning and comprehend when the story has context in their lives.
“First, reading is an interactive process, so the difficulty or ease with which a particular reader can read a particular text depends in part on his or her prior knowledge related to the text and motivation for reading it.”
If the child has never been to the zoo, for example, they are going to have a much harder time adding meaning and comprehending a book about the zoo, than a book about something they have experienced. But because there is only one book for each level, the student doesn’t have another chance.
Think about a textbook you’ve had to read in school for a subject you weren’t very interested in. Although the textbook may be at your reading level (not that you know what your reading level is as an adult) it was probably still hard to read and probably didn’t make very much sense.
“Interest and motivation are key to reading; reading is more than just decoding words.”
There are so many factors that affect the students’ performance in a reading assessment aside from their experience and interest. Is the student tired, hungry, distracted, sick, or anxious?
We need to assess where our students at with their reading but we can’t let the level determined by this assessment limit them.
How can we start to find a balance?