Fluent oral reading skills tend to emerge for most students between Year 1 and 2 (the second and third years of formal schooling) but students need continued fluency instruction for several more years as text complexity increases. Not all students in the upper years of primary school will need fluency instruction but some students will continue to need support and intervention.

Assessments of oral reading fluency are useful indicators of students’ general reading progress and competence and they can be done relatively simply.

Oral reading fluency (ORF)

Reading fluency is assessed using oral reading fluency (ORF) measures. ORF assessments measure reading rate and accuracy and are expressed in terms of the number of words read correctly per minute (wcpm).

Oral Reading Fluency has consistently been found to have a high correlation with reading comprehension. It is a valid, reliable and objective measure that can be used to identify students with reading difficulties and also for progress monitoring. ORF is a more accurate measure than teacher judgement.

Words correct per minute has been shown, in both theoretical and empirical research, to serve as an accurate and powerful indicator of overall reading competence, especially in its strong correlation with comprehension.

Hasbrouck & Tindal (2006)

Using ORF assessments for progress monitoring and intervention

Oral reading fluency assessments are usually quick and simple to administer and score. They are done one-on-one and take a few minutes per student. The measure is words correct per minute (cpm).

For beginning readers, fluency is best measured by reading lists of single words. Once a threshold score of wcpm has been reached in single word reading, fluency should be assessed using passage reading tests.

How to do an oral reading fluency assessment

  1. Obtain a word list or passage of text that is unfamiliar to the student and appropriate for the reading level of the student. The easiest way to do this is to use a validated assessment (see below) but any text of an appropriate level can be used.
  2. Place the list or passage in front of the student and have the same list or passage on a clip board or folder so they cannot see your marking.
  3. Ask the student to read quickly and carefully (or follow the administration instructions for the assessment) until you ask them to stop.
  4. Time the student while they read for one minute.
  5. While they read, place a mark against each word they read incorrectly. If they pause at an unknown word, allow them three seconds to attempt the word, then supply the word (or follow the administration instructions for the assessment).
  6. Count the number of words read correctly in one minute.
  7. If it is an initial assessment or an end of term assessment, repeat two times using an equivalent list or passage (three lists or passages altogether) and average the scores. If it is a weekly progress monitoring assessment, one list or passage is sufficient.
  8. Record the score in a spreadsheet so the student’s progress can be monitored. A graph for each student is a good way of visualising their growth.

Progress monitoring using ORF

The frequency of assessment depends on the student. For most students, every four to five weeks is sufficient (in the middle and at the end of each school term). Student scores should be recorded and evaluated against the relevant benchmarks.

Generally speaking, students need to read at a rate of approximately 90-100 wcpm for basic comprehension. For most students this should be achieved by the end of Year 2. Throughout the upper primary years, fluency should typically reach around 100-120 wcpm and higher again in secondary school. Skilled adult readers read at approximately 180 wcpm, depending on the text (higher for fiction and lower for non-fiction, on average).

 Average oral reading fluency rates for independent level* texts in the primary years

By end of Year 1 60 wcpm
By end of Year 2 90-100 wcpm
In Years 3 to 6 100-120 wcpm

* Independent level texts are able to be read with an accuracy rate of more than 95%

Source: Konza (2012)

Oral reading fluency norms have been published by Hasbrouck and Tindal based on US school grades. It is important to note that these norms have been determined using ‘grade level texts’, which is a concept not used in Australian schools. ORF rates are dependent on text complexity so the choice of text to use in the assessment is very important.

Making intervention decisions using ORF

Students whose scores are in the lowest 25 percent for their cohort should be provided with appropriate intervention. If the students’ low fluency is because they are having difficulty with accurate decoding, instruction in phonics will be necessary until they are reading words with automaticity. If their poor fluency is due to the rate of their reading, fluency interventions based on the instruction methods listed above (for example, Repeated Reading) are recommended.

For students who are receiving intervention and whose progress needs to be closely monitored, reading fluency assessments can be used as often as once a week. Students who fail to make progress after receiving an evidence-informed school-based intervention for no more than two terms should be referred to a speech and language or reading specialist for specialist diagnosis.

Oral reading fluency assessments 

There are a number of oral reading fluency assessments available for schools to purchase that have norms or benchmarks to help teachers to determine whether a student’s ORF is adequate. Some have Australian norms.

These assessments do not need special professional qualifications to administer.

Wheldall Assessment of Reading Lists (WARL) [Australian norms]
Wheldall Assessment of Reading Passages (WARP) [Australian norms]
Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE) [Australian norms for first edition]
York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) – Passage Reading Primary [Australian norms]
Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS)

Assessing prosody

Oral reading fluency assessments do not usually measure prosody. Research has not shown prosody to be a good independent measure of fluency for two reasons: prosody is a function as well as a predictor of comprehension and prosody measures are most reliable when they include reading rate, which makes them somewhat unnecessary as a fluency measure.  Assessing prosody takes significantly longer than ORF but does not improve the accuracy of the fluency measure.

If prosody is a concern from an instructional point of view, a multidimensional fluency scale or rubric such as the one below can assist to make teacher judgement and feedback more consistent. The scale below is intended to be used with a one minute passage reading sample.