Why Fluency Matters

Reading fluency is the ability to decode and comprehend text at the same time — to make sense of what is being read. Since comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, fluency is important because it affects how well readers understand what they read. In the matter of reading excellence, you might say that fluency is to reading what body temperature is to good health — one way to measure whether or not something is going wrong.

Fluent reading is not necessarily fast reading. Reading should move along at an appropriate rate of speed that reflects the mood and expression of the text. Obviously, fluent reading rates differ for each grade level. The point is that children whose reading is laborious, who must stumble or slow or stop over words to figure them out, will have difficulty comprehending text. Such a struggle in the primary years compounds greatly as the student enters higher grade levels which require more complex texts. Lack of fluency makes completing every school assignment in any subject — not just those specific to reading — more difficult and stressful, since reading comprehension is a prerequisite to all academic learning. Additionally, a student’s lack of fluency will contribute to additional homework and the time it takes to complete that homework. Clearly, ensuring a student’s reading fluency is one of the most important foundations to achieving success — in school as well as in life.

What is Reading Fluency?

For many years it was believed that to successfully read printed text simply required the ability to decode words accurately. But later research has shown that isn’t enough. Readers must also decode words effortlessly or automatically. Also critical to fluency is the ability to read interpretatively — with appropriate phrasing and expression. All of these elements are required to achieve maximum comprehension while reading a text. A good analogy is public speaking. A “fluent” public speaker uses in his voice those same elements described above — accuracy in speech, appropriate speed, and phrasing and expression. By using these elements of fluency — speaking in appropriate phrases, emphasizing certain words, raising and lowering volume, and varying intonation — the speaker helps the listener comprehend or understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.

Fluency Assessments and FluencyFinder

As the importance of reading fluency for academic success has become more and more prominent, the ability to measure reading fluency in order to teach and address fluency issues has become equally critical. Over the past 30+ years, education researchers have developed valid and reliable words-per-minute (WPM) and accuracy reading rate standards that teachers across the country now use in conducting fluency assessments for their students.

The traditional assessment process is relatively simple. The teacher starts a timer and the student begins to read from a standard, grade-appropriate text passage (grade level-appropriate passages are determined by a text’s total number of words, sophistication of vocabulary, and complexity of sentence structure). Following along from their own copy of the passage, the teacher circles any reading mistakes (mispronounced and/or skipped words) that the student makes. When the student finishes reading, the teacher stops the timer and then totals the number of circled words (mistakes) and, using a formula, calculates that number of mistakes and the total number of words read during the timed period. The assessment results are recorded and used, along with the information gleaned from the mistakes on the passage, to both measure and teach to the student’s particular reading issues. Generally, three fluency assessments are conducted over the course of the school year in order to monitor the student’s progress.

FluencyFinder provides teachers and parents a way to assess and track their students’ words-per-minute (WPM) reading fluency almost instantly — without pencil, paper, stopwatch, and calculator. And it records and stores all the results for you, eliminating even more time-consuming paperwork. It is designed to allow the user to quickly, accurately, and efficiently assess a student’s fluency, and then have that data available for tracking and monitoring — anytime, anywhere.


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