#SOL16: March Challenge Day 11 – Black and White


“I only read 76 wpm.”

“Why do you say ‘only’?”

“Because I didn’t do very well.”

“Why do you say that?

“Because I thought I was reading in order to remember so I could answer the questions.  But there weren’t any questions. Others read a lot faster than me.”

black and white


It’s a huge, huge area of conversation as students strive to meet the benchmarks set by the literacy screeners. All too soon the spring benchmarking period will be upon us.  What spring scores are you anticipating?  What does your instruction look like? What have you done to ensure success for your students? (Check here for the last post on a way to organize repeated reading.)

What do the standards say about fluency?

Here are the grade level standards for students in grade 3 for fluency:


Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.
Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.”

So what does this mean?

The grade level standard clearly states that a student will “read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.” And this language is repeated over and over. That seems so straight-forward and so black and white.  The goal is comprehension and both accuracy and fluency support comprehension.  No question there!

But what about RF3.4B?

It says “Read grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.” So students are to pay attention to “accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression” as they read the prose / poetry text on “successive readings”.

That also seems straight-forward and black and white.  All three terms are used frequently in fluency instruction and make sense.  There may be some variation in teacher’s use of “appropriate rate” – would that be “slow down on your first read to make sure you are accurately reading the text as printed” on the first read?  And then would there be an expectation that the rate would increase over time with practice?

Make sense?  What do you think?

So what’s the problem/issue?

1. How big of a deal is “rate”?  Is accuracy more important than rate?  

One of the major goals with assessing and instructing in fluency is to get to that “automaticity” level.  Students need to know many words instantly – there isn’t time or sufficient mental energy to decode every single word and put all the levels of comprehension together.  Tim Shanahan reports that Hasbrouck and Tindal are in the process of renorming and are looking at their current fluency rates and complex texts here.  Consider your purpose / goal in your work. If your plan is to allow students to be successful at a high level of accuracy AND rate AND expression, then you may choose to begin with easier texts so that students get the feel for “what fluent reading looks and sounds like”.  I like this quote from Diane, trainer for 95% Group, “You have to clean it up before you speed it up.”  I see no point in reading inaccurately at a fast rate.  That could be me. But accuracy is important to meaning so when would reading faster with more errors ever be acceptable?

2. What about the screener?  Why does it seem to privilege “rate” over “accuracy”?

The screener used three times a year records both accuracy and rate.  The median rate score out of three passages (each read orally for 1 minute), is used to determine whether the student meets the benchmark.  One score.  The median score. The correct words per minute from a timed one minute reading.  This is a “predictive score”.  The adults “get that”.

But in their hearts and brains and the minds and hearts of students, there is a disconnect. The screener does NOT align with the expectations of the ELA standards or the classroom instruction.  Not black.  Not white.  Gray zone.  “What am I supposed to do? Read for understanding?  Read for rate? How do I know?”

What is the answer for students?

Well, it depends.

This is the non-black as well as non-white step out into the gray zone. Fluency is a puzzle that is complicated.  Fluency is not the sum of all of its parts!  I believe you continually “nudge” the different characteristics to higher levels. This. Then this. Now this.

White:  Is it fluency according to the standards “accuracy and fluency to support comprehension” (and on successive readings or rereading as necessary)?

Black:  Is it fluency for the screening benchmarks “median rate in 1 minute of oral reading from three passages (3 x a year)”?

Is it gray:  Both?

What does fluency mean to you?  How would I know? 

“So open your book and read to me.”

 My child reads to me as I time his reading on my watch.  I’ve never timed his reading.  Is he really reading too slowly?  After a minute I breathe a huge sigh of relief.  There’s nothing wrong with his reading.  He truly did not know the purpose of his reading. Now what do I say?

“What do you think of your reading?

“I like reading to myself. Why do I have to read a test out loud? And why does anyone care how fast I read?”

Writing Process:   I had this piece in mind even as I wrote the post yesterday about repeated reading/fluency practice centers/volume of reading.  This is not an easy topic so I considered my audience and how to best convey this complicated issue.  I continue to believe that a question and answer format works best.  The idea of “black and white”  – that either /or helped me decide on a title and sent me in search of a graphic. I drafted and revised the central part of this post twenty-two times (# courtesy of WordPress).  And then I considered whether this was truly a slice.  That wondering caused me to add in both a new beginning and a new ending (an event that did happen – 18 years ago).

slice of life 2016

Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.  It’s the March Slice of Life Challenge so be ready to read DAILY posts!


6 responses

  1. Love the conversation and questioning your writing is causing in my head! Your slice feels very interactive to me

    1. Erin,
      There are so many different questions and answers that all depend upon the situation. It is frustrating when instruction and assessment do not align. But then, what is the next best scenario?


  2. I think this will become a very active conversation. I have been doing a lot of wondering and reading about these issues. Thank you, as always, for your timely insights.

    1. You are welcome! It’s so very complicated!

  3. Thank you, Fran. Important issues in refining our pedagogy … no simple answers … tests/benchmarks/etc can skew the vision … our focus must always be the student, always his/her life goals

    1. Alice, so true!
      We have to stay on the “right path” but it does become quite hard to distinguish!

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