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The San Diego Quick Assessment

by | Aug 21, 2018 | Reading/ELA Instruction, Teaching Strategies, Testing Strategies & Prep | 1 comment

If you are looking for a quick way to get a general idea of a new student’s reading level, the San Diego Quick Assessment may be the right tool for you!

Some educational diagnostic tools truly stand the test of time! The San Diego Quick Assessment is certainly one of those tools. In 1969, Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross created 13 lists of 10 words each based on grade level. These lists range from pre-primer and primer through eleventh grade. Originally published in Journal of Reading, these word lists are now available online and can be used by educators as a method to determine a student’s reading level.



The premise behind the San Diego Quick Assessment is surprisingly simple. Each grade level list contains 10 words in isolation. By displaying the words with no context clues, you are able to truly assess a students’ ability to decode words, without relying on context clues. You typically begin testing your students two or three levels below their actual grade level.



To assess a student, you show them the list of 10 words and keep track of how many they read correctly, allowing no more than 4-5 seconds per word. With this time restriction, it should take less than one minute per word list to administer. If they make zero or one error, that would be considered their independent reading grade level. You would then continue to test them at the next level to see if their independent level is any higher. Once a student makes 2 errors in a list, that grade level would be considered their instructional level, and you would stop testing. Three or more errors on one list indicates a level of frustration, and you would need to test at lower levels until you find the students’ instructional level or independent level. When administering this assessment, you may consider creating flashcards or a separate word list of all words, so students don’t read the words from the same tracker in which you are recording errors.

You may be wondering about the difference between independent and instructional levels and why you would need to know those. An independent reading level is the level at which a reader can read accurately (typically 95% or better for primary grades, and 97% or better for third grade and up) and fluently, without teacher support. They are also able to comprehend the material on their own. An instructional reading level is when the reader needs some teacher support or scaffolding to comprehend the material, and their accuracy rate is lower, typically in the 90-95% range. It is helpful to know both levels so that you can choose appropriate reading materials. For example, if a student will be reading a novel to participate in a book club with their peers, you would want to choose material at their independent reading level. If you will be working with a small guided reading group on a particular skill, or on something content specific, an instructional level might be appropriate, as you would be able to provide the needed support to ensure comprehension.

While the San Diego Quick Assessment is a useful tool, it is important to note that it should not be used in isolation or relied on as your only source of determining a reading level. It is particularly useful with a new student, or with all of your students at the beginning of a school year, when you do not know anything about their reading ability. If you are going to do a more thorough assessment, such as Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System (BAS), the San Diego Quick Assessment is a great way to determine the level at which to begin your testing.

The San Diego Quick Assessment can also be effective at seeing patterns with decoding errors. If you take the time to record each incorrect response during your administration, you will be able to see particular phonetic errors. For example, in the pre-primer list, there are three different long e vowel patterns. As another example, in the third grade list, you may realize that a student struggles with consonant blends, as there are three words with r blends. This data can be particularly useful in the primary grades and help to guide your phonics or spelling instruction.

As you can see, the San Diego Quick Assessment is certainly a quick assessment, and may offer you some invaluable data about a student’s reading level and decoding skills. But as noted, it should not be the only tool you use to guide your reading instruction, as it does not give any indication of reading comprehension. It is simply one more handy tool to have in your “teacher toolbox”.


San Diego Quick Assessment Tool

Use this tool to implement the San Diego Quick Assessment with your students.  The tool includes reading lists for students grades K-11, as well as a teacher recording sheet to record the reading performance of your students.  The tool will help you quickly and accurately record your students reading level using the San Diego Quick Assessment method. 


We encourage you to give the San Diego Quick Assessment a try in your own classroom! If school has not yet begun, plan to administer the assessment to a small group of 3 to 5 students during the first week of school. Once you have the data collected from the assessment, continue with more in-depth assessment as you typically would and see how the results correlate. If you are already deep into the school year and are confident that you know your students’ reading levels, administer the assessment to a handful of students to see how accurate the results are. Once you determine its usefulness in your classroom, you may want to use it the next time you have a new student, or perhaps at the beginning of your next school year.

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1 Comment

  1. Joan Peters

    Could you tell me how the author is of this article? Thank you.


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