Assessing Independent Reading

Posted on December 30, 2018


In my last post, I discussed what I learned from spending time reading in the ways I ask my students to read for my classes. As I was writing, I began thinking about the ways I assess independent reading, so here’s a follow-up post about assessment.

First of all, what am I assessing? I am looking for evidence of growth over time in readers’ stamina, range, depth, and fluency. This is my 4th year doing independent, rather than whole class, reading in my high school classroom, in ELA9 Honors, IB Literature 11, and ELA12. I use a number of tools to assess reading growth.

TIME. I make time for reading in class (10-30 minute sessions daily) and require time spent reading outside of class. Students must always have a book to read in class for reading when I announce, “Reading Time,” or when they’ve finished their daily work. Students must also have a book at home.

Rubrics. I break down the growth goals into concrete behaviors that students can do. At the start of each trimester, I introduce the rubric and provide students with a record-keeping model, though they are encouraged to use whatever way of keeping records they like. Here are the rubrics I use.


ELA9 Honors: ELA9A; ELA9B; ELA9C

IB Literature: Summer Independent Reading; T1 Independent Literary Scholarship; T2 Independent Literary Scholarship; T3 Independent Reading  

Senior ELA: ELA12A; ELA12B

Conferences. Throughout the trimester, I have short conferences with students where I ask open-ended questions, like, “How is the character in the story shaped by the time and place in which they live?” Or “How does the main character in this book compare with the main character from your last book?” While students are finding books in the library, I meet with each student for a short conference. At the end of the trimester, I meet with each student to see their evidence of growth and to agree on a grade. If they meet all the requirements for a grade, I award that grade. If they meet requirements at different levels, I listen to what they say, look at the evidence, and propose a grade. In 4 years of doing this, no student has disputed the final grade.

Signposts, Not Reading Logs. As I transitioned to Indy Reading from whole class, the question of reading logs loomed. What could I do that would give students a way to have evidence of their reading progress, but be meaningful too? My decision about how to answer this question was influenced by a confluence of ideas from several tributaries of my professional development stream: the idea of practicing argument every day, collecting, evaluating, and ranking evidence, from the College, Career, and Community Writers Program, and the idea of noticing signposts, from Notice and Note, by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst:

In Notice and Note Kylene Beers and Bob Probst introduce 6 “signposts” that alert readers to significant moments in a work of literature and encourage students to read closely. Learning first to spot these signposts and then to question them, enables readers to explore the text, any text, finding evidence to support their interpretations.

Along with functioning as an accountability tool, I can use the signposts (SP) as the basis for in-class activities, like Pair-Share, small group, or whole-group discussions based on elements of story, language, structure, style, etc.

What I love about the SPs sheets is that they function as book summaries as well as fodder for literary argument. They reinforce the idea that to make an argument, one must collect, evaluate, and rank evidence. When writing a literary essay, starting with the signposts allows me to emphasize EVIDENCE as the heart of an argument, during the reading process, long before we begin to write. Here’s a Blank Signpost Sheet (Online Version Designed by Loretta Crespo) To help my students learn how to do the SPs correctly, I provide them with this Signpost Self-Assessment.

Another thing I love about SP tables is that they works for both literary and informational texts, and they can be tailored for a specific assignment. For instance, IB Literature students must select a point of focus for an essay from a list. Then, while they read, they annotate the text for passages related to the topic. The first step in the topic narrowing process is to select ten SPs from the beginning, middle, and end of the text. From there, writers must evaluate and rank the evidence upon which they will build their arguments. I have found that requiring SPs to earn points has allowed me to “monetize” the process of close reading–because students want to earn the points–but also, it has allowed students to narrow and clarify the focus of their essays. Collecting and evaluating SPs allow students to engage more deeply in the thinking processes required for a strong essay.

I have found that these tools help me manage the accountability and grading aspects of Independent Reading. I recognize the possible drawbacks of rubrics and “worksheets,” but for me, these tools help me communicate clearly with students and parents the expectations I have for students, allow students voice and choice as readers, and provide a flexible record-keeping system that deepens students’ reading experiences. These tools give students a way to provide evidence of their growth as readers, and they allow me a lot of flexibility to engage students in meaningful conversations and activities based on their reading.

Other Posts In This Series:

Part 1–Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA : A Journey of Discovery

Part 2–Returning to Reading Research

Part 3–10 Books, 24 Hours: Winter Break Reading Challenge