Assessing Reading Fluency–Word Recognition Automaticity

In my previous blog I presented a simple approach for assessing students’ word recognition accuracy. Certainly accuracy in word recognition is important – you can’t read if you can’t decode the words in print.   However, word recognition accuracy is not enough. Proficient readers are also automatic in their word recognition. Automaticity refers to the reader’s ability to recognize words in text instantly or effortlessly. When word recognition becomes automatic readers are able to move their cognitive resources from the word recognition task in reading to the more important comprehension task.

One outcome of automatic word recognition is an increase in reading speed. As readers become more effortless and instant in their recognition of words, their reading rate will naturally increase as well. So, reading rate or reading speed has become a simple way to measure word recognition automaticity. Here’s how you do it:

Use the same reading that the student did for word recognition accuracy.   In addition to marking uncorrected errors, simply mark where the student is at the end of 60 seconds or reading. Then, determine the number of words that were read correctly in the 60 second period; this is the student’s word recognition automaticity score and is usually stated in terms of words read correctly per minute (WCPM).

Now, because students’ reading fluency rate increases with age, you’ll need to compare their WCPM scores against grade level norms. Fortunately, these norms are easily available. Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal have developed a valid set of automaticity norms. Below I provide the end of year 50th percentile norms for grades 1 through 8 based on Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms:

EOY 50%ile Norm                       Threshold for Concern

Grade 1:               53 wcpm                                              40 wcpm

Grade 2:               89 wcpm                                              67 wcpm

Grade 3:               107 wcpm                                           80 wcpm

Grade 4:               123 wcpm                                           92 wcpm

Grade 5:               139 wcpm                                           194 wcpm

Grades 6-8:        150 wcpm                                           112 wcpm

These norms represent normal end of the year performance at each grade level. So, for example, if you are a third grade teacher, your end of year goal is for your students to be reading at least 107 wcpm on third grade texts. Scores that are say 25% below these norms should be cause for concern – such students are not developing sufficiently in word recognition automaticity to comprehend texts well. A complete listing of Hasbrouck and Tindal’s norms can be found at

Determining reading rate is a simple and effective way to measure word recognition automaticity. However, I need to point out that directing students to read faster is NOT the way to teach automaticity. When students are directed to read faster and faster they lose sight of what reading is all about – making meaning. We want students to improve their automaticity (and speed) the way that you who are reading this developed your own automaticity and speed – through lots of authentic and engaging reading, the more we read, the more automatic we become at recognizing words, and our comprehension and reading speed will naturally increase.

Word recognition accuracy and automaticity are critical for reading success. And being critical, we need to monitor students’ development of these key competencies. In my next blog, I will discuss assessing one last component of reading fluency – prosody.

Timothy Rasinski

Dr. Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and director of its award winning reading clinic. He has written over 200 articles and has authored , co-authored or edited over 50 books or curriculum programs on reading education. He is the author of several bestselling books on reading fluency. His research on reading has been cited by the National reading Panel and has been published in many high profile journals.