4 Must Have Science of Reading Aligned Assessments

I get messages all the time asking me what assessments I use since making the
switch to the Science of Reading.  But first, let’s take a second to back
up and track how we got to this point, shall we?

I taught first grade for 10 years back with Fountas & Pinnell weren’t bad
words, levelized readers were the norm, and phonics was boring and not given
much thought.  After 10 years in the classroom, I took a Mom break to
stay home with my littles.  

Soon after I left the classroom, the Science of Reading movement began in our
state.  I went through the same training my teacher friends did here to
keep up my license.  

Then, I took 2 long-term sub positions when my oldest started kindergarten. I
got to try out SoR in resource and in kindergarten.  That’s when I
officially said
goodbye to guided reading, DRA assessment kits, and levelized readers.  That’s also when I really
got to test out what works best for
small group instruction in an SoR classroom.  I started using our SoR aligned assessments to form groups and my
kinders were making HUGE strides.  Like nothing I had ever seen in my
F&P classroom before.

Since then, I’ve adopted twins to keep me busy at home for a bit longer, while
getting LETRS certified and working hard on learning more about what the
Science of Reading looks like in the K-2 classroom.

PHEW!  Lots of background info to say, these are my most favorite
assessments I’ve used to help guide my Science of Reading instruction. 
(HINT:  They’re simple, about 10 times faster and OH sooooo mcuh smaller
than the big old DRA kit! #iykyk  And most of them you can get for FREE!)

Use PAST To Assess Phonemic Awareness

PAST stands for Phonological Awareness Screening Test.  I discovered this one when I was teaching kinder and QUICKLY fell
in love with it.  It’s fast.  It’s simple.  And it tells sooooo
much about kids and what they know about sounds.  I even used this on my
2nd grade the year we homeschooled during CoVid.

What Is It? In a nutshell, PAST is like using Heggerty exercises
to assess kids.  If you are not familiar with Heggerty, (and you totally
should be because it’s the BEST way to teach Phonemic Awareness in primary
grades), the PAST assesses kids by asking them to repeat words and then change
them in some way: delete a sound, replace a sound, etc…

Why I Love It? The easiest part of PAST is that the teacher
script is right there in front of you and it’s two pages.  I print my two
to a page so it’s all on one side. 🙂

But the BEST part of this test is it’s FREE.  Yep, 100% free.  Just
go right here and download the test and all the directions.  So when
ya’ll have messaged me asking if I have a good PA assessment, I say no. 
Because this one is just so stinkin’ good and it’s FREE.  #winning

How I Use It? Once I have assessed kids on
PAST, I start recording where they fall
these recording sheets from my small groups teacher binder.  Then, I can pull small groups to target their common Phonemic
Awareness holes.  In this example below, I would pull Justin &
Whitney to work on PAST level K1 (deleting the second part of a blend). 
I would pull Cooper to work on level J (substituting middle short/long vowel
sounds).  And I would pull back Knox & Evelyn to work on level H1
(deleting beginning sounds).

Use DIBELS/Acadience to Assess Phonics

I’ve gotta tell ya’ll.  There was a time in my teaching career when I was
in the throws of Fountas & Pinnell that I absolutely hated DIBELS. 
Like literally loathed it.  It was a state mandated test for screening
all kids and then tracking those below grade level every two weeks.  I
turned in the data on the state website every so often and never did another
thing with it.  

I think I disliked DIBELS so much because it was just another assessment on
top of DRA and others we were already using to levelize kids and I didn’t know
how to use the data.

Fast forward to my immersion in the Science of Reading a few years ago and I
started seeing real value in this assessment in kindergarten and beyond.

What Is It? 
Acadience (formally DIBELS)
is a series of quick, 1 minute tests that assess letter naming fluency,
segmenting sounds, blending nonsense sounds/words, and oral reading
fluency.  Acadience even gives you a little teacher booklet to organize
all of your data. 🙂 

Why I Love It?  I love how fast Acadience is.  In less than 5 minutes I can
assess a kid in all the areas needed at that time of the year.  I also
love that it’s easy to train a paraprofessional to do this testing in a
pinch.  (Although, I’m the weird teacher that loves to assess my own kids
because I think it builds so much rapport and I learn so much more about them
doing it myself.) 

How I Use Is It?  In kindergarten, I used this to help me pull groups of kids for letter
naming.  I kept track of when kids could ID uppercase and lowercase
letters using our own school assessments for that.  So, kids who knew
uppers and lowers, but hit below the benchmark for letter naming fluency
needed to be pulled to work on naming letters faster.

I also used this data to pull kids who were like this one in the example
below.  They could say the sounds of during the nonsense word fluency
test, but they weren’t really blending them to read them as whole words. 
So with these kids I would use small group time to target blending VC and then
CVC words (real and nonsense.) 

You can find the teacher booklets and student pages all
for free if you sign up.

Use Decoding Passages to Assess Phonics

When I was trying out all of these Science of Reading assessments during my
kinder long-term sub job, what I found was missing was some way to identify
how well kids could actually read once they knew letters and sounds.  The
district assessments (PAST and Acadience/DIBELS) were mostly for phonemic
awareness and segmenting and blending.

Those are SUPER important.  Don’t get me wrong.  But at the end of
the day, we want kids to read words in context.  And we need to meet them
where they are.  So, as I started creating decodable booklets and
passages to use for extra practice during small groups, I also added a
decoding assessment for each decoding skill.

What Is It?  Decoding checkups are like running records for decodables.  They
assess kid’s ability to decode using a specific phonics skill (short a,
r-blends, -ing words, etc…)  It ask kids to decode words in isolation,
decode a short sentence, and decode a longer paragraph.

Why I Love It?  I love that I can hear kids decode in isolation and in context. 
In the example below, Cooper is able to read individual words, but when those
CVCe long a words are put in a longer context, his decoding skills

While Acadience does have an oral reading component, the words are just “grade
level” and it is not written to hone in on a specific phonics skill.  And
that difference is a huge game changer when pulling groups.  Acadience
tells me if they are reading on grade level.  Decoding checkups tell me
what phonics sound is tripping them up so I can fill that gap. 

How I Use Is It?  So, I record their data on these
recording sheets
and fill the gaps that I find.  I use these assessments as I teach our
sounds whole group.  If they pass that sound, great.  If not, they
get pulled with other kiddos to work on decoding that skill.  And I
recheck them every week or every other week to see how they are doing with
that skill.  

In this way, we worked through our
phonics instruction, and I was assessing kids as we went through the
phonics curriculum.  I have also created this
quick and easy phonics screener
so you can screen your kids at the beginning of the year to get an idea of
what sound to start practicing in groups.  This would be helpful to get a
quick handle on kids who are struggling from day 1 and how to help them

I also use this data to help kids color in their phonics level as they go on
this thermometer.  Kids keep this in their reading folder and it gives them a visual for
what skills they are working on and helps us set goals on what to work on

Use Oral Interviews to Assess K-2 Comprehension

The biggest shift from DRA testing to Science of Reading testing is
comprehension.  The research from the Science of Reading tells us that if
we want kids to comprehend what they read, they must first comprehend
what they hear.  So for primary students, oral comprehension comes

And we know that once they can comprehend a story read aloud AND can decode
texts, they will begin weaving those two skills together to comprehend what
they read.

What Is It?  Oral interviews for comprehension look exactly as you would expect
from the name.  After reading aloud a book to the whole group
several times, I pull kids back and ask them to retell the story. 
It doesn’t even have to be the same day.  In a time crunch, I would read
the book on day 1, call back my higher kiddos to retell and then reread the
book on day 2 and call some more kids back. 

I use whatever graphic organizer we’ve been using to retell stories as a
visual cue to help them organize their thoughts.  The ice-cream scoop is
one of the first ones I use because… who doesn’t love ice-cream?  The
kids love this one and it’s super easy to follow.  

It’s important to know that when I’m assessing this, the graphic organizer is
in front of them, but I’m not referencing it or pointing to it.  If they
struggle, I will go back and give them cues, but then I’m noting that in my

Why I Love It?  First, I always love having conversation with kids.  It builds
rapport and gives me a small glimpse into their world and how they see
it.  But it also tells me a lot about whether kids can sequence events,
use transition words, use complete sentences, etc. 

How I Use Is It?  During the interview, I have the graphic organizer in front of the kid
and this data recording sheet in front of me.  I simply say, “Tell me
about the book we read called, ______.” I use this
comprehension checklist
to help me guide where the strengths and weakness are. 

If they struggle retelling the beginning, middle and end, I stop.  If
they do that well on their own, I check off what else they add and then ask
them other questions for some of the other skills like, “Who were the
characters in the story?” or “What was the moral of this story?”

Once I have their comprehension checklist filled out, I can start using that
data to form comprehension groups.

Want the comprehension checklist? 
Find it FREE here!

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