A Better Way to Profile Reading Skills 

grandma and granddaughter practicing the child's reading skills In our previous post, we discussed the problems with using “grade level” as a measure of reading proficiency. See What Does Reading on Grade Level Mean?

The current grade-level approach incorrectly implies that language comprehension and topic knowledge can be separated and that reading skills can be measured independently of knowledge of the topic. But, if grade level is not a very meaningful or precise way to profile reading abilities, what might be better?

A More Meaningful Way to Profile Reading Skills

The science of reading suggests a key to a more meaningful way to profile reading skills. The Simple View of Reading tells us that comprehending reading material requires two main abilities: 

  1. The ability to understand the spoken language of the material, including the topic, the meaning of the words, and the sentences. 
  2. The ability to read (decode) the written words. 

The 1st of these abilities depends a great deal on the reader’s knowledge about the topic. Topical knowledge requires education or at least experience. 

The 2nd of these abilities depends on the reader’s ability to identify (decode) the written words.

Consider this fill-in-the-blank question that might appear on a 3rd-grade science test:

fill-in-the-blank question as an example of reading skills

If the student has never been exposed to a science curriculum focused on the properties of matter, they may struggle to choose the correct answer (gas), even if they understand the words and the question and choices were read aloud to them. This is a knowledge gap.

Some students, even those who have been exposed to a curriculum about the properties of matter and understand these properties may struggle to answer the question due to difficulty reading the words. This is a word reading gap

Recent research suggests that assessment using the Simple View of Reading has the potential to determine a student’s reading profile and to identify the appropriate intervention methods for students who struggle (Sleeman, et al., 2022). Because comprehension is so tightly related to topic and vocabulary knowledge, it makes sense to assess reading skills using materials on topics the student has covered. 

Content area teachers (e.g., in science or social studies) don’t typically think of their assessments as tests of reading. But often reading is at the heart of struggling students’ difficulties in mastering content area subjects. If teachers had a way to measure their students’ verbal responses as follows, it would help them pinpoint any reading difficulties:

  1. Can the student answer questions orally about the material?
  2. Can the student read (pronounce from print) isolated content words from the material? 

The role of knowledge in reading comprehension is a super-hot topic in today’s science-of-reading discussions. See Closing the Gap.  But, despite the “simple” and rational guidance provided by the  Simple View of Reading, methods for assessing reading skills that don’t depend on overly simplistic averages and grade level equivalents have been elusive.

What do you think? If you were creating a testing system, how would you balance subject knowledge and word reading? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

How Lexercise Can Help with Reading Performance

If your child is a struggling reader, Lexercise can help. Lexercise identifies and treats dyslexia and other learning difficulties with online reading, writing, and spelling therapy. Children who complete the Lexercise program improve 3 grade levels on average! Learn more on the Lexercise website, or contact us today.



Sleeman, M., Everatt, J., Arrow, A., and Denston, A. (2022). The identification and classification of struggling readers based on the simple view of reading, Dyslexia 28(3).

DOI: 10.1002/dys.1719 LicenseCC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Wexler, N. (2019). The Knowledge Gap: The hidden cause of America’s broken education system–and how to fix it. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Wexler, N. (2022). Why 3 Popular Infographics on Reading Don’t Tell the Whole Story. Minding the Gap. July 17, 2022.

Identify Dyslexia Early

Parents and teachers alike have often asked “how early dyslexia can be diagnosed?” While diagnosing a reading disability prior to literacy instruction is considered questionable by most school systems, patterns in children’s speech can predict later challenges in reading.

When children are first learning to speak, they often make sound errors.  Young children may eat “pasketti,” not “spaghetti”, carry a “packpack” to preschool, or even love to see the “aminals” at the zoo when still developing.  However, for some children, these differences are more pronounced and indicate poor speech sound development.  This learning difference predicts reading difficulties since children who have trouble processing sounds for speech often carry that difficulty into reading and spelling.

rainbow-1140420_1920In some children, speech develops normally but there is still difficulty with identifying and sequencing the speech sounds in words. For example, at 2nd grade a child with weak speech sound processing may have trouble telling the order of the 4 speech sounds in a word like smash (s-m-a-sh).

These symptoms may indicate an underlying language-literacy processing problem.  Even if these kids appear to be mastering early literacy, their underlying challenges with sounds mean they are far more likely to memorize words and use dysfunctional decoding patterns than to build the skills that prepare them for lifelong literacy. Fortunately, there is an effective treatment!

Designed specifically for students with this type of challenges, Lexercise therapy supports speech sound awareness and processing.

Our clients include children of speech-language pathologists who know that the solid research behind Lexercise is the best thing they can offer their own children.

If your child’s previously “cute” preschool articulations are moving towards concerning reading struggles, we encourage you to administer the free Lexercise dyslexia screener as a first step to identifying an underlying language processing problem.