How To Assess Students in Reading Using Decodable Running Records

The goal of our small reading groups is to help kids make progress at their individual levels. Using decodable texts has been a game-changer in reading the past few years! We know that each student’s reading journey is as unique as a fingerprint, but finding tools to assess students in reading that align with the science of reading feels like searching for a needle in a haystack!

A featured image for a blog post about Assessing Students in Reading.

We’ve all been there – administering reading assessments for our students that just aren’t right. They have words your kids can’t yet decode, so they don’t give you enough data for a starting point.

Assessing your students’ reading skills shouldn’t be this confusing or difficult!

As teachers, we want and need an assessment tool that matches our phonics instruction and identifies students’ needs.

So, what’s the solution? Decodable assessments!

Decodable running records are a new way to assess our early readers. They use decodable reading passages, which ensures the assessment is based on phonics skills that have been taught. #nomoreguessinggames

Using a decodable assessment can provide you with so much valuable information! These types of assessments will let you know if students are:

  • Sounding out words
  • Blending them accurately
  • Adding or omitting sounds or words
  • Attempting before asking for help
  • Self-correcting errors
  • Reading fluently
  • Understanding the text
Sample decodable running record assessment- student reads as teacher marks a copy.

Think of them as a flashlight on the road to reading. They’re designed to illuminate what your students already know and which skills they need to work on!

No more guesswork, just targeted teaching!

When we have clear data on specific phonics and decoding skills, it’s easier to plan targeted reading instruction.

With decodable assessments, you’ll get specific information about your students’ reading abilities, helping you tailor your instruction in the most effective way possible.

Administering a decodable assessment is simple. 

  1. First, copy one student page and as many recording forms as students you will assess.
  2. Next, have each student read their copy while you mark the assessment form.
A page from the Decodable Running Records Assessments.

As each student reads, you’ll mark above each word on your recording form:

  • ✔ if read correctly
  • Draw a line above the word for an error or a skipped word
    • Write any attempt on the line
    • If the child self-corrects, mark it with SC
  • Use a caret mark for any word additions

When you finish this step, every word will have a mark above it. 

Then, take observational notes based on the child’s reading. For example, you might note:

  • Error patterns (ex: you notice they consistently said /a/ for /e/).
  • Student reread often
  • Tried to self-correct
  • Guessed at words

To score the decodable assessment, you’ll fill in the number of errors and the number of times student self-corrected their errors, then subtract only the errors from the word count to figure out the Words Read Correctly.

It’s important that you do not count self-corrections as errors.

A page from the Decodable Running Records Assessments.

If your students are in first grade or above, you’ll next circle a number for fluency, using this key as a guide:

  • 1= very slow, sounded out most words, robotic (one word at a time)
  • 2= slightly slow, some phrasing (words grouped together)
  • 3= smooth, natural pace, mostly with expression

Want to try out a decodable assessment for yourself? Check out my FREE sample assessment pack!

When choosing an assessment tool, make sure the assessment matches your phonics scope and sequence. An assessment is only useful if it aligns with what you have taught.

This is the progression of skills that I follow:

  • CVC
  • Digraphs
  • Blends
  • VCE
  • simple multi-syllabic VCCV
  • R-controlled
  • Vowel teams
  • Diphthongs

You can read this post to view the Decodable Lessons I use.

Once you’ve assessed and scored your readers, you can use the data you’ve collected to individualize your teaching! This data can help you group students for phonics instruction. Some kids may need extra support with phonics skills but may have great comprehension, and vice versa. So your groups will be flexible depending on the instructional goal.

You can also use your data to decide what skill to start with for each group or what specific skill to target or progress monitor with a group.

This is a page from the Decodable Running Records Assessments to help Assess Students in Reading.


If you’re ready to use decodable assessments in your classroom, then my Decodable Running Records are for you! These aren’t your average running records; they’re specifically designed to focus on phonics skills while checking fluency and comprehension, making them incredibly useful for planning targeted instruction.

Each reading passage has a student version and a teacher version. The student version has large print, making it easy for our little readers to focus. The teacher’s version comes with checklists for phonics skills, fluency, and comprehension. Words with the target phonics skill are underlined, so you can easily see how well your students decoded them.

Check it out in my Tejeda’s Tots Shop!    

Do you have any questions about using Decodable Running Records Assessments to assess your students in reading? I’d love to help! Comment below and share.

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