I don’t know about you but I have always been lucky enough that my school district never dictated exactly how I had to do my running records. They only said I had to have them quarterly and report the percentages.
Can you say loophole?
Because no one but me ever saw my completed running records (just the scores), I developed my own style of shorthand notes that made the most sense to me.
Disclaimer: I have been formally trained in the correct running record procedure – several times. I feel it’s important to have that background and understand what you are looking for when evaluating the results in order to inform your instruction.
When determining what method to use (formal or my very informal), think about the purpose of taking the running records. My purpose is always to see progress and create my guiding reading groups.
So, all that being said let’s dive in!
First Things First
Choose the book you are going to be reading. My first several years of teaching we were given a set of books and recording forms that were reserved for running records. I just kept these in a box away from the students’ books and pulled them out when needed. My last several years I was not given any tools for my running records BUT they did give us a membership to Reading A-Z.
I took advantage of the membership and was able to download a set of their running record materials for my second graders. It does take some time to create the books but once you have them you should be able to use them for several years. I compiled all the materials I needed into a running record binder for easy access during my testing times. You can see how I set it up here.
Second, make sure the book you are choosing is NOT a familiar book for the students. You want your running record to come from a cold read to accurately access their current reading level and instructional level. This is why I always kept my running record books away from the students. I wanted the first time they were exposed to the story to be when they sat down to testing with me.
If you are in a situation where you can pick the stories you want to use for your benchmark testing, I strongly suggest thinking about the backgrounds of your readers. I would not choose a book for my non-native English speakers that contained a lot of concepts they did not yet know. For instance, when I taught in the Saharan Desert, instead of using a book that talked about scarves, hats, and mittens I might choose one that talked about the park, school, and home.
The book you choose for a level should be the same book all students at that level are assessed on. In my running record binder (see it here) I have ONE book at each level of testing.
Offering the book to the student
Depending upon the age level you teach, you may want to throw in a few concepts of print during this time. It only takes a few extra minutes and can give you an idea of what you might need to cover in your whole group or small groups.
For example, when I taught first grade I used a concepts of print test I found in a teaching resource that covered the front and back book cover, first letter in a word or sentence, a sentence, last letter in a word, identifying multiple words, matching print to the picture and more.
I was usually a little surprised by the results – especially in the beginning of the year. Although with the introduction of common core I would expect things would be much different now.
If I were to work in concepts of print with my assessment, I would offer the student the book upside down and backwards. Then I would say, “Show me the title of the book.” I would just observe if they knew how to turn the book around and find the cover.
That simple sentence covers 2 concepts!
I do not provide the title to the student right away.
ALWAYS give them the chance to read and decode it first. This will give you some insight as well if they are going to really struggle with the story (although not always).
If you give them the title without allowing them to figure it out, your whole running record might be skewed. If they are an AA reader most likely one of the words in the title will be a repeating word throughout the book. This means if you give them that word from the title you might be giving them 50% of the words from the story!
Reading A-Z has a benchmark story called “Funny Cat” where the word funny is constantly repeated in the 2-3 word sentences on each page. Let’s say the book has 32 words and funny is a word you gave them but is repeated in the story 8 more times. If they genuinely do not know that word than missing it gives them an error of 75% (not passing) – which does not even factor in any other errors.
Giving them the word might mean they pass the level and then they would most likely struggle if placed up a level for their guided reading group.
scoring set up
Once the student begins to read, I have my scoring sheet in my lap on a clipboard. I do not want them to pay attention to any marks I am making. Usually, they are very curious and some students will be affected in their reading if they think you are counting all their errors (which you are but you don’t want to draw their attention to that). This is especially true for those nervous kiddos who always want to do really well.
I like to sit the student beside or directly across from me. Some students read very quietly and can be difficult to hear over the usual classroom noises – especially if you are taking running records during centers. I don’t usually need to, but you might want to remind students to keep the book flat on the table so you can see the words as well and observe if they are pointing as they read.
As the student begins reading I place a checkmark above the words read correctly. If the student struggles a lot right off the bat (as in can’t read any of the words) I discontinue the test.
Depending on the text level I will either grab the level below and begin again or I will administer a letter naming and sound assessment instead. If they really struggle with their letter assessment I might try to give them a phonemic awareness assessment or just give them a sticker and send them on their merry way but make a note to evaluate them further at another time.
STUDENT SOUNDS OUT A WORD
If a student reads the word correctly AFTER sounding it out I place a checkmark with a little SO written above (for Sound Out). This is my reminder later that they can sound out words independently. If I prompt them to sound it out when they are stuck, I note this as well. They still get a checkmark for the word.
STUDENT IS GIVEN A WORD
If I prompt them to sound it out, they still don’t know I might write a slash through that word and the word “given” on top. We then continue with the running record.
STUDENT TRANSPOSES THE WORDS
When a student reads a sentence but transposes two of the words I write a little squiggle between the words. For instance, they might read “the boy to went the house” instead of “the boy went to the house.”
STUDENT SKIPS READING THE PUNCTUATION
I also like to make a note of if they are skipping punctuation (which is part of fluency) by circling the end punctuation they missed. This tells me later that I can address it in my small group or reading conference in a short mini lesson.
Last, I ask students to tell me what happened in the story when they are done reading. This is also asked during DIBELS and is an important skill to master. I will jot a brief note on the bottom of the running record with how the student answers.
TAKING QUICK STUDENT NOTES
I might also add a quick note or two about how the student did while reading. When I am forming my reading groups I will refer to these notes to help place my students.
SCORING THE RUNNING RECORD
When the running record is completed it is time to figure out the score. Count the errors and subtract this from the total words in the running record. Then take this answer and divide it by the total words and multiply by 100 to calculate the accuracy rate.
Students that receive a 95% or higher should be tested on the next running record level. Sometimes you may need to test on several levels until the student is no longer receiving a passing score or having difficulty with retelling the story.
If a student scores 95% or higher but cannot recall the story or answer simple comprehension questions there is no need to test them on the next level. The next blog post in this series will go into more details about placing students in reading groups and determining their appropriate level.
Related Post: How to Organize Running Records
Have any questions or comments? Leave them below. Don't forget to grab your free unofficial scoring sheet - it offers more scenarios than discussed in this post.