The Importance of Evaluations in Reading Remediation

How to Conduct Reading Evaluations


Why are evaluations important when helping struggling readers?


In remediation situations, it is important to evaluate the student.  Students who struggle with reading do so because they lack specific skills necessary for proficient reading. You need to know where specific deficiencies exist in order to better build the necessary skills.  An evaluation is not a ‘test’ but rather an informal tool to help you determine the exact reading skills you need help your student develop. Evaluations help you be a more effective teacher.


We can learn much by carefully observing what children are doing incorrectly when they read. Much like a coach watching a child swing a bat or a physical therapist watching a patient walk, observing the details of current performance helps us identify weakness and then teach to strengthen specific skills and rectify difficulties.  The child makes reading errors because they lack necessary skills to read the word correctly. Often by evaluating their exact errors we can identify specific weaknesses and then teach to strengthen necessary skills to rectify problems and help the student advance their reading.


*Important Note: The following evaluation techniques are only informal tools for indicating possible gaps in reading skills. If you have any concerns at all about the student’s hearing, vision, development or other medical concern, the student must be evaluated by a doctor or other appropriate professional. These informal evaluations do not provide any medical information or official diagnostic data. If the student has difficulty hearing (for whatever reason from an ear infection to a physical disability) it significantly impacts phonemic awareness and the ability to tap into correct phonologic processors.  Students with uncorrected vision impairment will have challenges seeing the print. Any and all medical concerns need to be addressed by professionals.


What evaluation elements provide indicators of specific reading skills?


To help determine the student’s skills and identify possible gaps in necessary reading skills check the following elements:


Phonemic Awareness:  Assess the student’s ability to perform phonemic awareness activities. Can the student distinguish and manipulate sounds. If they have difficulty recognizing the sound structure of language, where exactly do they have difficulty? Is it with beginning, ending or middle sounds, blended consonants, blending, segmenting or sound manipulation? Results indicate what specific phonemic awareness skills the student needs to develop. Remember phonemic awareness is essential to reading success as it allows the student to access efficient phonologic processing. A free phonemic awareness evaluation can be found in the article Quick Evaluation of Phonemic Awareness.


Knowledge of the Complete Phonemic Code:  Evaluate the student’s knowledge of the complete phonemic code. Check their direct print=sound knowledge of basic sounds, alternate vowel sounds, vowel combinations, r-controlled vowel combinations and other complexities. Determine if they have specific gaps in their code knowledge. Also check that the code knowledge is direct and automatic. It is not a coincidence most struggling readers have major gaps in their code knowledge especially with vowel combinations and other complexities.


Reading Skills: Evaluate the students reading /decoding performance. Close scrutiny of the student’s exact mistakes usually reveals repeated mistakes and patterns of errors. Careful evaluation of the specific errors the student makes while reading is enlightening. Look for errors with incorrect words, skipped words, replacing one word for another, missing parts of the word and problems with multisyllable words. The particular type of reading errors can indicate deficiencies in specific skills such as tracking, blending, attention to detail, and absence of phonologic processing. The reading evaluation is particularly helpful in determining the fundamental skills that the struggling reader needs to develop.  See the article Actual Reading Errors Made by Struggling Readers for further information on evaluating reading skills.


Spelling: Spelling indicates how the student is transferring sound to print, the converse of reading. Give the student spelling words from an appropriate list they have NOT studied or evaluate uncorrected writing samples. Look at their exact spelling. Patterns of errors in spelling often indicate how the student is processing words and can also reveal phonemic weakness. 


Reading Comprehension:  Reading Comprehension is a higher level skill. To evaluate comprehension, ask the student some questions about what he or she is reading. Basically, you are checking how well the student understands what they read. If they have poor comprehension skills, you then check to see if the poor comprehension skills are based on decoding/reading difficulty or on a lack of comprehension skills, or both.


Before you begin evaluation, explain to the student the evaluation is not a test but rather a tool to help you target your instruction. Some struggling readers become upset with anything they view as a test. Tell the student, not to worry if they ‘miss’ something in the evaluation, there are not ‘wrong answers”. All that means is a specific skill needs to be taught to them.


Interpreting results of the informal ‘reading evaluation’, identifying potential missing skills and targeting remediation to help the student achieve reading success


After you have completed the individual evaluation elements, you need to combine and interpret the overall results. The combined results of phonemic awareness, knowledge of the complete phonemic code and performance in reading and spelling provide a useful ‘picture’ of the exact skills you need to help your student develop. Students who struggle with reading do so because they lack specific skills. Look at all the evaluation elements together. The combined results usually indicate specific weakness in certain fundamental skills. You then can target instruction to build these necessary skills. For examples of how to interpret reading errors see the article Actual Reading Errors Made by Struggling Readers.


Remember the focus is on checking to see if the student has established necessary skills for proficient reading. To read proficiently the student must first process print phonetically. Consider the foundational skills (knowledge of the code, tracking, blending, phonemic awareness, attention to detail). Check if the student has mastered, integrated and applied these skills to the essential process of phonologic processing (converting print to sound). After examining the fundamental skills, consider the student’s abilities with the higher level skills (handling multisyllable words, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary).  For additional information, see the article Skills Necessary for Proficient Reading.


Individuals who struggle with reading vary greatly in the specific skills they are lacking. For example, one student may have poor phonemic awareness, not know the sounds and not be processing print phonetically. Instruction would need to directly establish all fundamental skills to develop the proficient phonologic pathways. Another student may be ‘sounding out’ words but struggling with some of the complexities because their code knowledge was incomplete. This student would need to learn the complexities and strengthen phonologic processing. Another reader may only have difficulty with multisyllable words. A different individual may decode perfectly but not pay attention to or understand what they read so would need direct work on developing comprehension strategies. The evaluation helps you identify the skills the student needs to develop and target your instruction to these necessary skills. Back on Track Reading Lessons program includes evaluation tools and instructions on adapting the reading instruction to meet your student’s individual needs.


For further information describing common areas of reading difficulties see the article Common Reading Problems; How to Identify Common Problems and Target Instruction to Help Struggling Readers Develop Necessary Skills.


Evaluations require interpretation. If you are in doubt about what skills the student has mastered and what skills they need work on, it is best to start at the beginning to ensure the student establishes a strong foundation of phonologic processing and then systematically add advanced skills. If you repeat a skill the student already knows, they simply gain a little extra practice.  Remember, even the professional elite players practice fundamental drills. Problems arise when the student fails to acquire a necessary foundational skill. Older students, especially those with some of the skills in place, advance very rapidly. Don’t cut out necessary instruction just to save time. A few extra days of instruction to insure fundamental skills are established and practiced is a wise investment. The strong foundation of phonologic processing is essential to proficient reading.


For additional information on struggling readers see the article Students Who Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia.


For further details on how to help your student acquire necessary skills and develop proficient reading see the articles How to Help a Student Who Struggles with Reading Overcome Reading Difficulty and Achieve Reading Success and  Elements of an Effective Reading Remediation Program.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen