Fluent reading is accurate, automatic, smooth and phrased with appropriate intonation and expression. Fluency is a sometimes called a bridge between phonics and comprehension. Fluent reading is an indication of proficiency, but also a skill that can be taught.
Aimsweb and Dibels are two of the main fluency assessments used by public schools today. These tests are used because fluency scores are often an indicator of reading difficulties. Exactly what tests are given depends on the grade level/time of year. The skills build in difficulty and complexity.
In Kindergarten and the beginning of 1st Grade, students are given 4 different fluency assessments. These are individually administered one minute tests. To some extent each of them builds on the next.
Letter Name Fluency or LNF is a full page of letters of mixed upper and lowercase in a random order arranged in rows of 10 letters. Students are asked to identify the letters by name. They have 60 seconds. The score is the number of letters identified correctly during this time. This assessment tests their automatic retrieval of letter names. A student who has difficulty with this task may not know all their letters or may know them but requires thinking time to retrieve them.
Letter Sound Fluency or LSF is a full page of lowercase letters in a random order arranged in rows of 10 letters. Students are asked to identify the letter sound for each letter. They have 60 seconds. The score is the number of sounds identified correctly during the testing time. This probe tests their automatic retrieval of letter sounds. Rapid automatic knowledge of letter sounds is an important skill to make decoding unknown words efficient. Difficulty with this task may indicate letter sounds that are not known or retrieved quickly, or could indicate difficulty with letter identification.
Phoneme Segmentation Fluency or PSF is an oral task. After practicing with the student to be sure they understand the task, a teacher will say a word and the student will need to break the word into individual sounds. The correct response for the word cat would be /c/-/a/-/t/. Their score is the number of sounds or sound combinations they correctly segmented. This skill is used in writing when students say words slowly in order to write the sounds that they hear. Student performance on this task sometimes doesn't match their scores on the other portions of the test. This is a phonemic awareness task and is a strength for some students and a challenge for others.
Nonsense Word Fluency or NWF is a page of make believe words that follow a predictable consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. Students can respond by sounding out the word or reading the whole word. The score is the number of sounds they read correctly. If the word on the test is the nonsense word "vap", a correct response would be /v/-/a/-/p/ or vap. The assessment is designed to assess a child's decoding/phonics skills. Nonsense words are used rather than real words, because many real words are recognized automatically by sight and does not accurately reflect the child's decoding abilities. Students that struggle with this task typically have trouble sounding out unknown words in a story.
Students that are receiving intervention in reading are tested more frequently to monitor their progress with passages at their own instructional level rather than grade level.
While the fluency assessments are a good predictor of difficulties in reading, it is best to take into consideration your child's classroom performance, teacher input and other assessment scores. Small variations in fluency scores are common, but a score 10 points below the target is a cause for some concern. I encourage you to talk to your child's teacher if you have concerns about fluency scores. A skilled literacy tutor can also help to differentiate a fluency difficulty from a more generalized reading difficulty through skilled observation and assessment.