2nd-5th Grade Reading Present Levels & Assessments

Writing a strong IEP begins with strong assessments and knowing what your student CAN do in each subject. This page walks through sample PLOPs for students working at a mid- to late-elementary level in writing and assessments you can use to write even better PLOPs for your own students!

Present Levels

The goal of a Present Level for any student is to tell about what that student can do. A PLOP that says, "Juan can read one work of a fifth-grade book per minute," tells you nothing about where Juan is at academically and nothing about what goals to set for the student. After having read far, far too many present levels that sound like that, I figured it would make sense to share what I think a strong PLOP might sound like. The ones below are very, very imperfect-- but they each give you concrete information about what the imaginary student can do-- information that you could use to come up with actually individualized goals.

Zahara is reading words on a list and in stories at a mid-first grade level  (DRA 12 advanced decoding, DRA 14 intervention decoding). She is proficient at reading words with digraphs. She can read words with blends and long vowels with 75% accuracy. She reads CVC words with 65% accuracy, words with "r" controlled vowels with 46% accuracy, and words with vowel diphthongs with 40% accuracy.

Zahara has much stronger comprehension of material she listens to than material she reads herself. She needed multiple prompts and extra time to give a complete retell of a DRA 12 story that she read. Given time, she was able to tell almost all the important details from the story. Her initial retell had the main ideas of the story but limited details and she needed prompts to add on. After being read a story, she was able to answer "wh" questions about it, retell the main events, and to discuss the central problem. She can describe a character in a story and tell what a character learned, but she needs supports to identify a theme and make inferences. Zahara is also able to give a short main idea statement for a non-fiction passage but needs teacher support to identify details that support the main idea.

Decoding and fluency are areas of strength for James who is fluent and accurate on reading fourth grade texts. He is proficient at reading all sounds in words and has strong literal comprehension of texts. He was able to give a good summary of a fourth grade story, but had more limited higher-level comprehension of the text. He was able to tell how a character felt, but not how her feelings changed. His answer to what was important in the story was limited and he needed prompting to expand his answer.  On other stories, he was able to answer literal questions, give summaries, and identify the character's main problem. He needed support with identifying the main idea of story, finding evidence, identifying a theme, and making inferences. 

Assessments & Baselines

A key part of a student’s  reading present levels is the DRA, ARI, or whatever other levelled reading assessment your district uses. Note that these are NOT included in the assessment packet, but baselines and tips are included below!

  • The DRA is a pretty popular levelled reading assessment. At the lower levels, students read an entire book to you and then answer written questions. You come up with a level like 18 that they are reading at based on their accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.
  • The ARI is a short cut alternative. It offers only one passage per grade level and they are very brief, so it is a very rough assessment.
  • There are also a variety of other assessments used in district assessment. General education teachers are often required to give these assessments before report card periods and you can earn serious site credit by doing them for the teachers– and get an informal assessment in too!
  • Tip 1: Some students are reluctant writers. The upper levels of the DRA have a LOT of writing for the comprehension questions. Your goal is to know what they understand, not what they can write. Typing, voice dictation programs, or even just having them answer the questions orally can all help.

  • Tip 2: Some students have a large split between comprehension and decoding. For those students, you can read the DRA stories and then ask the student the questions. That or another grade level comprehension assessment (that you read or have a  computer read) can help you get a sense of their comprehension skills independent of decoding.

Zahara is reading words on a list and in stories at a mid-first grade level  (DRA 12 advanced decoding, DRA 14 intervention decoding). She needed multiple prompts and extra time to give a complete retell of a DRA 12 story that she read. Given time, she was able to tell almost all the important details from the story. Her initial retell had the main ideas of the story but limited details and she needed prompts to add on. 

What type of words can a student read? If you use a DRA-type assessment, you can get a sense of what grade level words a student can decode, but that doesn’t help you decide on phonics interventions and placements. Decoding assessments can fill that gap!

  • Many school sites have adopted phonics programs. If yours is one of those, you are in luck! Almost all of those programs include a high-quality decoding assessment. While the programs expect you to use that assessment just for program placement, you can often pull enough information from it to inform an IEP. Note that the assessments were not designed for IEPs (or to save you time!), so you might need to do a bit of work to pull helpful IEP information from them!

The assessment packet includes a decoding assessment with a mixture of real, made-up, and multisyllabic words with six different letter patterns. The letter patterns include CVC words, digraphs, blends, long vowel, diphthong, and “r” controlled vowel words. There are ten single syllable real words, five nonsense words, and five real, multisyllabic words for each. The words vary as well in where the pattern is found– beginning or end of word– and the type of pattern (e.g., pl blend or sn blend).


  • 80% on a section is considered proficient– I only report on accuracy until that threshold.

  • Stop the assessment if a student is getting less than 20% right on a section– there is no point in torturing yourself or a student!
  • I typically only report on a student’s percentage of accuracy within a section but you can also include example words. If you see interesting patterns, report on those. For example, in digraphs a student might get all of the “th” ones right and one of the others, which is worth reporting. Or a student might get all of the real words but miss nonsense words– or the single syllable but not the two. If it is interesting and could help shape an intervention, report on it!

Student 1:

Ji can read CVC words with 50% accuracy. He can read words with digraphs with under 10% accuracy and needs teacher support to read words with other letter patterns.

Student 2:

Janna is proficient at reading CVC words as well as words with consonant digraphs, blends, and long vowels. She can read words with “r” controlled vowels with 67% accuracy and words with vowel diphthongs with 53% accuracy.

For some students, it is helpful to report the number of words they can read accurately per minute at a given grade level. Fluency materials are not in the assessment packet because my groups typically included a fluency warm up (like Read Naturally) and I just used the data from that for the IEP.

  • If you are are using a fluency program or intervention, just report on that data in the IEP. The big ones I have used for fluency are Read Naturally, Six Minute Solution, and the fluency passages from Reading A-Z. 
  • Some levelled reading assessments like the DRA also include a fluency component– you are supposed to time a student reading one page. If your assessment includes that information, just put it in the IEP.
  • Standards of how many words per minute is considered fluent vary by grade level. If a student is reading at a fifth grade level, you are typically looking to see them read at least 80wpm. If they are reading at a first grade level, you might be okay with 30wpm. Because the words per minute you are looking for vary so much, you need to include both how many words per minute the student read and whether that was fluent for  the text according to the assessment.

  • You want to assess students at the grade level where they are most fluent or right above that. When I see an IEP that says a student can read 30wpm on a 5th grade text, I get frustrated. That student is not anywhere near fluent at a 5th grade level. They probably should be working on fluency on about a 3rd grade text– telling me about their wpm on a fifth grade text is just telling me how much they are failing. I want to know where I should start them in my fluency group!

Zannia is a fast, fluent reader on grade level texts. She can read a fifth grade passage at 93 words per minute with 95% accuracy.

Assessments like the DRA give you some information about a student’s reading comprehension, but often you need more to really inform your IEP goals. What do you notice in group? What else can you say about where a student is strong or needs support?

  • You can give a student any writing prompt that makes sense to you! When they are done, ask them to read back the story to you and write down what they say so you can compare the story and the text. 
  • You also also want a rubric to use to score the sample– the goal of the rubric is to focus on what the student is doing so look for one with strengths language (can and not can’t language).

The assessment packet includes a variety of fiction and non-fiction reading passages with comprehension questions. The assessment starts with simple retell questions on a brief passage and move from there into higher-level questions. You can read the passages to students, take dictation, or have them do them on their own– and choose the passages that are at the right level for students. The goal is to provide you with information for goals that might be missing in your other comprehension resources!

  • You can read these stories to a student and write the answers for them. After all, these stories are written to assess comprehension skills, not decoding or writing skills. The term “author’s bias” is new to a lot of students so explain it if you need to.

  • Each story focuses on a different area of comprehension. The Kelly and Mindy story assesses how well students can answer “wh” questions about a story. The turtle story assesses literal comprehension focusing on story elements– beginning, middle, end, and problem/solution. Metamorphisis moves to non-fiction with main idea and details. Mr.Kirk goes back to fiction and assesses character knowledge and inferencing. Coal moves to author’s bias and details while the freezing day story goes back to inferencing. The final story looks at higher level fiction comprehension skills including theme, lessons, and changes in a character.

Student 1:

Kassandra has good literal comprehension of texts. After a reading a short fiction story, Kassandra is good at answering “wh” questions about a story. She can tell the problem in a story as well as what happens in the beginning, middle, and end of the story but she needs support to tell how the problem is solved. She can describe a character as well, but needs support with higher level comprehension including making inferences and discussing the theme of the story. After reading short non-fiction passages, Kassandra was strong at telling details from the passages, but she needed support with higher level comprehension like finding the main idea of the passage.

Student 2:

Jacob has good literal comprehension of short passages. He was able to answer “wh” questions about a story and tell what happened in the story, including what the problem/solution was. He is able to describe characters and how they feel about each other and connect his thinking to the text through evidence.  Jacob can also tell what a character learns during the story. He needs support with higher level comprehension skills like making inferences and identifying a theme in a story. His understanding of non-fiction texts is emerging. He needs support to find the main idea of a non-fiction passage but is able to find details from the story.