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The Role of Reading Rates

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Solid reading programs do not make reading rate itself a goal, but rather a marker for early reading progress.

Many experts suggest that slow reading rate is a symptom of poor reading. This is because

short term memory has limited capacity and when our memory system is overburdened, we

lose the ability to make sense of what we’re reading.

So what do we really know about Reading Rates? Well for one, slow reading alone is not an


In fact we naturally slow down when reading technical text to pay more attention to decoding and meaning.

This would explain why it sometimes took me 2 or 3 times to read the dreaded textbook from

my horrific Statistics class in college. It's as if my brain was putting the brakes on my ever-so

fluent & automatic word recognition skills and saying watch out, something's not quite right

here. When this happens, it forces me to pause, struggle a bit, even "space out" and think to

myself what did I just read? Then almost automatically I begin reading the hard part all over


The same unhurried, labored reading can be said of an early reader. Especially one who is

hyper-focused on sounding out the words. It is more than appropriate for the rate of an early

reader to be deliberate and slow, but continued growth and improvement in that rate is what


Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal completed an extensive study of oral reading fluency. The

results of their study were published in a technical report entitled, “Oral Reading Fluency: 90

Years of Measurement." What came of their study was a list of average reading rates of

students in Grades 1 - 8 that serves as a benchmark for educators when evaluating their own

students' oral reading rates.

It's important to note that knowing optimal reading rates by grade level gives us an idea of how involved a reading deficit may be.

The optimal oral reading rates you see below are intended to be met in the Spring. You'll notice that for each grade level, there are 2 reading rates: one for silent reading and one for oral reading.

Rather than trying to teach children to read faster, it is crucial that they are able to decode

easily and continuously to maintain their concentration.

It is also prudent that schools frequently measure their students' progress with regard to reading rates so that those in need of intervention can be determined.

Solid reading programs do not make oral reading rate itself a goal, but rather a marker for

early reading progress.

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