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How to Test Your Child's Reading Ability

Sit next to your child in a comfortable, well lit area. Ask your child to please read you a story. Give your child the book, help locate the first page of text, and then ask your child to start reading out loud. While your child reads you should read along silently. For the purposes of this test you must resist the temptation to help your child read. Once your child starts reading you should remain silent except perhaps for some occasional words of encouragement. Under no circumstances should you read any portion of the book out loud or otherwise assist or prompt your child.

While your child is reading, keep track of the approximate percentage of words that he or she is getting right. Keep in mind that a successful reader must consistently identify at least 90% of the words correctly. Count a word as "correct" if your child has said the word that is printed in the book. It is OK if your child occasionally needs two or three tries to get the pronunciation right, but not OK if your child is guessing words that don't appear in the book, even if those words have a similar meaning. For example, if the word in the book is "boot" and your child says "shoe" then you should count it as an error, even if "shoe" would have made sense in the sentence.

Your child should be able to read smoothly, without any significant number of long delays or other signs of frustration (an occasional delay is OK). After each paragraph or so (or every page in very simple books), stop your child and ask what just happened in the story. Your child should be able to tell you in his or her own words what the text was about.

Here is what you should watch for:

• If your child refuses to read or cries or shows other signs of great frustration when asked to read independently, then there is almost certainly a serious reading problem. Capable readers are proud of their ability and they usually enjoy showing it off to adults.

• If your child fails to say at least 90% of the words accurately, then there is almost certainly a reading problem. Capable readers can correctly identify almost 100% of the words in any piece of age-appropriate text, no matter how unfamiliar it might be.

• If you observe your child trying to guess which words might fit into the sentence rather than simply saying each word as written, then there is almost certainly a reading problem.

• If your child tries to construct the story by looking at pictures rather than by reading the text, then there is almost certainly a reading problem. If you notice this behavior, try covering the pictures and starting over (remember that by third or fourth grade your child will be expected to read text that has no accompanying pictures).

• If your child cannot develop a reasonable pace or stumbles frequently or otherwise seems unsure, or seems to get the words right but mispronounces them, then your child has probably not had enough reinforcement of basic reading skills and practice in independent reading.

• If your child can read the words but cannot tell you what the story is about, then your child is probably working too hard on identifying the words at the expense of comprehension. This is a sign of weak word recognition skills, resulting from too little practice and reinforcement. Capable readers are able to recognize and assemble words almost effortlessly, leaving their higher-order thinking skills free to comprehend the story.

From the I Can Read! Reading program


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