by Meredith Flory

Reading Assessments and Goals

A child’s ability to master reading at their grade level can affect their performance throughout school as textbooks, test questions, and other reading materials will increase in difficulty level in all subjects.  Often I focus on building the pre-literacy skills necessary to prepare a child for learning in the classroom, however, many parents have expressed to me that once their child was in school, knowing the terminology and assessments regarding their child’s reading level can be intimidating. The speed at which curriculum and assessments change can be daunting, even to a seasoned parent. I spoke with educators specializing in curriculum development in both Richmond and Columbia counties about what parents might expect to hear this school year regarding their child’s reading skills. 

What does it mean to be reading at grade level?

Dr. Karen Cliett, coordinator for English Language Arts for the Richmond County School system explained that reading at grade levels means that a child has “mastered age appropriate levels” for five skills necessary for reading – phonological awareness (understanding and repeating the sounds that create language), phonics (relationship between written and spoken sounds), fluency (accuracy and speed of reading), vocabulary and comprehension. She explained further that in Kindergarten through third grade, instruction is focused on “being taught to read,” but that in fourth grade and beyond the child should be “reading to learn.” Leslie Dial, an instructional specialist in Columbia County, pointed out that parents with young children do not need to worry about specific skills and assessments but rather turn the focus toward their children recognizing the relationships between sounds that they hear and words on a page, and this can be accomplished through talking and reading with them.

What standards will my child be assessed on?

Cliett addressed that each state has specific learning standards that tie into instruction in the classroom.  Parents can always ask educators for assistance in understanding those standards, or use their state’s Department of Education website to find information. Both educators that I spoke to shared that each county uses a literacy screener of their choice that meets state guidelines. 

Lexile scores are another term that parents may see in educational materials. Lexile scores refer to an assessment that measures word frequency and sentence structure in a text and measures the ability to comprehend those same aspects in a reader. Cliett pointed out that Lexile scores tend to be higher for informational text due to the technical vocabulary required to understand the content. Dial also added that Lexile scores may shift up or down for a reader due to the complex way it measures reading and explains that scores are not exact, but rather a range. 

Cliett pointed out that several other educational and publishing companies, such as Fountas and Pennell’s leveled books or Atos readability scales from Renaissance Learning may also be used at different schools or for labeling children’s books, but that many of these scales measure similar aspects of reading.   

What can I do to help encourage my child to continue growing as a reader?   

While assessments are an important tool as children move through their education, Cliett affirms that it is only one piece of information, and we “never want to use just one piece of information when helping our child with their education,” she says. Making sure to calm a child’s anxiety about testing and subject areas they have difficulty with is vital.  However, that piece of information may help you find appropriate texts for your child to read.  Cliett points out that Richmond County has suggested summer reading lists by grade level, Lexile score and teachers and librarians can also help you use this information to find books that are in your child’s suggested reading range throughout the year.  However, she advises “sometimes it’s good to enjoy books that are at a lower level but peak the child’s interest.” Dial adds that making sure content is appropriate is just as important as making sure it is readable.  Since children are often interested in media, she shares that using a trusted website without links to inappropriate content, such as National Geographic for Kids or Highlights can be read in magazine form and supplemented online. These may be good ways to get children to focus on reading and research. 

Dial noted that one of the “worst things we can do to encourage a child is to make them “read longer” than their focus and interest lasts, and instead we should focus on goals such as one chapter, one article, or one book rather than a set amount of time. Think about how we read as adults, either for our own entertainment or to younger children, when setting expectations for our children.  She also notes that as parents we can work to get to the root of why a child doesn’t enjoy reading – is it the difficulty, their interest level, or another problem that needs to be addressed, such as eyesight. 

Dial ended our conversation with the idea that parents should “look at where your child is and grow them from where they are” and focus on individual growth rather than comparing to other children in order to measure incremental successes. Cliet shared that her county is “customer service” oriented, and that parents should always feel comfortable discussing questions regarding their child’s reading level with the classroom teacher or other educator. 

Online Resources for Parents:

South Carolina Standards of Learning:

Georgia Standards of Learning:

(Each subject area and grade level can be accessed through the menus on the main pages). Information on the Lexile framework for reading and resources for finding corresponding books.

Scholastic’s resource for finding and purchasing books that correspond to a certain grade level. Resource for parents that has activities based on different reading concepts and skills. Parent Resource section includes practice standardized tests. The Smithsonian’s educational website with kid appropriate reading content in a variety of subject areas, complete with activities and quizzes.

This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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