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Assessing children's reading development is more important than ever--not just because test scores are visible indices of educational accountability that are reported in newspapers but because teachers use many types of assessment to inform their daily instruction. The connections between reading assessment and instruction may be strongest in primary grades for beginning readers when the variability among children's reading skills is large. That is when children benefit most from individualized instruction, and it's the time when teachers can use assessment to diagnose individual difficulties. As a consequence, researchers, publishers, and policymakers have created many new types of early reading assessments. This, in turn, has required teachers to learn more about reading assessment tools and how to use them. In this column we provide essential information for teachers, arranged in a question-answer format, about one type of early reading assessment--informal reading inventories, or IRIs.
What is an IRI?
Informal reading inventories were designed more than 50 years ago to assess multiple aspects of children's reading skills in authentic situations (i.e., children reading texts with teachers in classrooms). Today, there are increasing numbers of IRIs created by commercial publishers and state education departments in the United States. As children read text, teachers observe their strengths and weaknesses, ask questions to probe their understanding and knowledge, and record quantitative and qualitative information. The assessments are informal and diagnostic because the IRI administration is tailored to each student and because the observations do not emphasize uniform or comparative data. IRIs usually include assessments of oral reading accuracy based on running records (Clay, 1993) or miscue analyses (Goodman & Burke, 1972). Many IRIs include grade-level word lists (i.e., sight vocabulary), comprehension questions, and retelling rubrics. Most include graded word lists and reading passages from preprimer through middle school levels. Some include procedures for assessing prior knowledge, listening comprehension, repeated readings, or silent reading.
Who should administer an IRI?
Teachers of K-3 can derive the greatest benefits from informal reading inventories because the skills that are assessed most often focus on decoding skills necessary for fluent oral …