Reading fluency is the speed, accuracy and ease with which a person reads. Age-appropriate oral reading fluency is one measure of reading progress. It is important because fluent readers are more likely to comprehend text than non-fluent readers. According to Dr. G. Reid Lyon, "The longer it takes you to read something, the more memory and more attention it's going to require." It is important for educators and parents to monitor students' reading fluency.
The most obvious measure of reading fluency is reading rate. The number of words read per minute is the standard system to express this aspect of reading fluency. It is easily quantifiable by having a student read a grade-level passage of 100 to 300 words and time the student's reading. Some systems require only correctly read words be counted.
After the reading sample has been completed, divide the number of words in the sample by the number of minutes used for the reading. Check a standard fluency chart (see Resources section) to compare the student's performance to grade level expectations.
Reading accuracy is the number of words read correctly and without hesitation. Assess reading accuracy by noting which words are misread during oral reading. There are two types of reading accuracy: sight word recognition and phonics application. In order to read fluently, students must have instant recognition of common words, especially those that do not follow phonics patterns, such as "gone" and "have." Facility with these words can be assessed by having students read words from one of the standard lists such as the Dolch list or the Fry 1000 Instant Words.
Readers should be fully fluent with common sight words by the end of third grade. In addition, readers need to quickly apply phonics rules to decode unfamiliar words. These rules begin with the simple rules for long and short vowel sounds, such as the short vowel contained in consonant-vowel-consonant pattern in words like "bug" through the complex rules about syllabication and use of affixes. Fluency with application of phonics skills is generally acquired by the end of elementary school or grade 6. These skills can be assessed using nonsense syllables constructed to mimic the common patterns, such as "gat" and "bive" to assess recognition of the consonant-vowel-consonant and the consonant-vowel-consonant-silent e patterns. Create nonsense constructions and ask a reader to sound them out as they would real words to see which phonics rules have been mastered.
Reading with Expression
Fluent readers read with expression. The reader will respond to ending punctuation by pausing and changing intonation appropriately. Instead of reading word by word, the fluent reader will group words into verbal phrases that express ideas. Questions will end with rising intonation, exclamations will be read with greater emotion, and quoted text will be read with the cadences of speech. Reading with expression indicates that the reader is processing the text mentally and understanding what is being read. A fluent reader will also notice when words are misread or when there is a mismatch between expected and actual text.
If miscues or mismatches occur, the fluent reader will reread words, phrases, sentences or passages and self-correct any errors. To assess reading with expression, monitor the reader's response to punctuation, listen for appropriate inflection and note self-corrections.