The danger of reading ages

In a previous post about Reading Ages I highlighted the many problems associated with them. You can find this post here.

Reading Ages (RA) should always be taken with a pinch of salt and only ever used as a marker to show whether there is a particular problem. RAs are not a diagnosis. The diagnosis is arrived at by drilling down and analysing the results of a RA test and understanding why an RA comes up short of chronological age.

Data and schools goes hand in hand and with schools trying desperately to show the link between reading and its impact on learning many schools are looking at ways of being able to show this (my book Mapping and Tracking shows a way this can done).

Reading has always been a difficult one to prove. How can you categorically show that reading for pleasure has an immediate impact on learning? We know it’s true because we see it everyday but how can you judge this and show it?

Due to this there is a danger of trying to force data to play to your own tune. Many people have looked into and tried to force a link between RAs and National Curriculum Levels (NC levels). On the surface this looks like a relatively good idea. If you can say that a student is reading at a certain age and this relates to a certain curriculum level then you can judge the student and put the right things in place for them?

This however is very very wrong.

You should never try to do this and I would encourage anyone thinking along these lines to abandon any attempt to do so

Realistically there is no correlation between the two and neither really should you try and force one. Due to how a reading age is created there is no way to be able to link the two. A student may have a lower reading to chronological age for all sorts of reasons. It could be down to word recognition, comprehension, speed, accuracy, ability to decode common and uncommon words. Therefore a student may have a reading that is 3 years below because they take longer to process words. This means that their comprehension is in line and their decoding skills are in line but they are just a little slow.

So, if you were then to say a reading age of 8 is equivalent to a 3b there is no way it can work as that student’s ability is really more in line with their chronological age. This is the same for a dyslexic reader whose decoding skills let them down yet their comprehension is absolutely fine. Reading ages should never be taken as more than a guide to show there might be something wrong.

If you’re testing students you need to analyse their reading ages and understand what it really means. It’s the standardised score that really counts and where this sits in the bell curve. If they are between 85-115 then they are at the right level for their age.

Knowing the reason behind the RA is massive as it can then lead you to be able to make an impact in the students literacy in all their subjects. For instance if you know that a student has a low RA to CA because they have trouble with comprehension then you can be sure that this issue is going to manifest itself in all the student’s subjects. If the teacher is unaware of this and the strategies they might employ to help the student (directed questions, bullet pointing etc) then the student will struggle to learn and make the expected progress.

However if this knowledge about the student is shared as well as strategies with teachers, support staff and parents then you can use this understanding to make a truly significant impact.

This is the approach we have taken in our school to great effect. Utilising this understanding and introducing Access to Literacy Provision Maps for our weaker students.

Back to RA:

The other issue is that although there is guidance as to what NC levels students should be at at different ages students don’t learn at the same rate. The final problem is if this were at all possible is that levels are being scrapped so the data would be useless anyway!

What I have done instead is create my own version of APP for reading. Students read with a buddy or a trained LSA, they then mark them down on the ARP sheet as to where they are and what they are capable of doing. This then shows if a student is in line with their chronological age.

If they are not then this is highlighted in our tracking sheets and either picked up for intervention by the library, SEN or English dept.

This is a much better way, rather than trying to force data to fit your own requirements as it is more about the individual child and what they are capable beyond a test.

Remember a test only gives you information to a certain point, the rest needs to be figured out from analysing and working with the student.

Assessing Reading Progress


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