How to Use a Running Record to Assess Beginning Readers

How to Use Running Records
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A running record is an assessment method that helps teachers evaluate students' reading fluency, ability to use reading strategies, and readiness to advance. This assessment emphasizes the student's thought process, which allows teachers to go beyond counting the number of words read correctly. In addition, observing a student's demeanor while reading (calm, relaxed, tense, hesitant) provides valuable insight into his instructional needs.

Running records can be used to guide instruction, track progress, and choose appropriate reading material. A running record is slightly more formal than simple observation assessments, but it is still an easy tool for measuring reading fluency.

Tracking Errors

The first aspect of a running record is tracking student errors. Errors include misread words, mispronounced words, substitutions, omissions, insertions, and words that the teacher had to read.

Mispronounced proper nouns should only be counted as one error regardless of how many times the word appears in the text. However, all other mispronunciations should be counted as one error each time they occur. If a student skips a line of text, count all words in the line as errors.

Note that mispronunciations don’t include those pronounced differently due to a child’s dialect or accent. Repeated words do not count as an error. Self-correction—when a student realizes he has made an error and corrects it—does not count as an error.

Understanding Reading Cues

The second part of a running record is analyzing reading cues. There are three different reading cue strategies to be aware of when analyzing a student’s reading behavior: meaning, structural, and visual. 

Meaning (M)

Meaning cues indicate that a student is thinking about what she is reading. She is taking cues from the context of the passage, the meaning of the sentence, and any illustrations in the text.

For example, she may say street when she encounters the word road. This error doesn’t affect her comprehension of the text. To determine whether the reading behavior reflects the use of a meaning cue, ask yourself, “Does the substitution make sense?”

Structural (S)

Structural clues indicate an understanding of English syntax—what sounds right in the sentence. A student who uses structural clues is relying on her knowledge of grammar and sentence structure.

For example, she may read goes instead of went, or sea instead of ocean. To determine whether the reading behavior reflects the use of a structural cue, ask yourself, “Does the substitution sound right in the context of the sentence?”

Visual (V)

Visual cues show that a student is using his knowledge of the appearance of the letters or words to make sense of the text. He may substitute a word that looks visually similar to the word in the sentence.

For example, he may read boat instead of bike or car instead of cat. The substituted words may start or end with the same letters or have other visual similarities, but the substitution does not make sense. To determine whether the reading behavior reflects the use of a visual cue, ask yourself, “Does the substituted word look like the misread word?”

How to Use a Running Record in the Classroom

Select a passage that is appropriate for the student’s reading level. The passage should be at least 100-150 words long. Then, prepare the running record form: a double-spaced copy of the text the student is reading, so that errors and cue strategies can be recorded quickly during the assessment.

To conduct the running record, sit next to the student and instruct her to read the passage aloud. Mark the running record form by checking off each word that the student reads correctly. Use notations to mark reading miscues such as substitutions, omissions, insertions, interventions, and self-corrections. Record which reading cue(s)—meaning, structural, or physical—the student uses for errors and self-corrections.

After the student finishes reading the passage, calculate her accuracy and self-correction rate. First, subtract the number of errors from the total number of words in the passage. Divide that number by the total number of words in the passage and multiply by 100 to get the percentage of accuracy.

For example, if a student reads 100 words with 7 errors, her accuracy score is 93%. (100-7=93; 93 / 100 = 0.93; 0.93 * 100 = 93.)

Next, calculate the student’s self-correction rate by adding the total number of errors to the total number of self-corrections. Then, divide that total by the total number of self-corrections. Round to the nearest whole number and place the final result in a ratio of 1 to the number.

For example, if a student makes 7 errors and 4 self-corrections, her self-correction rate is 1:3. The student self-corrected one time for every three misread words. (7+4=11; 11/4=2.75; 2.75 rounds up to 3; ratio of self-corrections to errors is 1:3.)

Use the first running record assessment to establish a student’s baseline. Then, complete subsequent running records at regular intervals. Some teachers like to repeat the evaluation as often as every two weeks for beginning readers, while others prefer to administer them quarterly.