Using Frequency to Assess a Student’s Reading Performance


How fast do you walk, speak, read or breathe? How long have you been walking, speaking, reading and breathing?  And you don’t know? …. Interesting.

In my last blog, I promised that I would provide some information on the frequencies of some typical human behaviors. Despite engaging in these behaviors for literally years, we usually have no specific information regarding the rate at which we do them. That is not unusual for us mere mortals, but Olympic athletes know their respiration rate, heart rate, and their stroke rate if they are swimmers, rowers, kayakers, etc.

Frequency as a Measure

We just never think of frequency as a way to measure our behavior. Consider this. All behaviors have a frequency. As far as we now know, you are born once and you die once. Other behaviors have different frequencies. You tend to brush your teeth 2-3 times daily. You might eat 3 times a day, maybe more. Every behavior has a frequency and a range of frequencies.

For example:

  • Your resting heart rate is usually between 65 -70 beats per minute depending on your age and fitness level.
  • You tend to breathe between 25-30 breaths per minute when resting.
  • You walk at 120 steps a minute if you are walking briskly.
  • You speak at 200 words per minute in social conversation.
  • You read aloud at 200 – 250 words per minute.
  • You read silently at 300-400 words per minute unless the material is technical in nature.

And your point is???

Frequency can hat help us to teach children at risk of school failure to catch up. Well, if we know that competent readers do so at 200 words per minute and our child-at-risk reads at only 60 words per minute, we can now determine how far behind the class our student is currently. We can also take daily measures of reading frequency to see what if any difference our intervention is having on the child’s ability to decode words.

Measuring Quality

We can also count the frequency of errors to see if the quality of the student’s reading is improving or not. We could decide to concentrate on building better pace or building better quality.

A student should be able to read as quickly and easily as they can carry on a conversation. If they cannot do so, it indicates that there is something in the writing that is holding them back. The student is generally very transparent. They will show you their difficulties with the passage by pausing or stopping at the words that they cannot decode.

Frequency and Lists

When we are teaching children to read we often use word lists, we can apply frequency to word lists that are composed of those words that the student has already been taught. Competent students can read 60 – 80 words per minute in word lists. They will also make no more than 2 errors.

When we teach children to read, we often teach them to master the sounds and sound combinations that make up phonetically regular words so that they can unlock the word by sounding it out. Students should be able to say 25 -30 sounds and sound combinations from a list in 30 seconds or 50-60 sounds and sound combinations per minute with no more than 2 errors.

Free Tools

The free training for teaching reading on our provides both instruction and measurement of sounds and sound combinations for the teacher and for the students. It also provides 10 free lessons which contain word lists and stories as examples of using frequency to measure how well children are learning to decode words. Start by taking the free reading assessment test, which will give you access to all these materials. Check it out and see how well you and your students do.

I will add some more common frequency measures for spelling and math in my next blog.

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