Why Calculating Correct Words Per Minute Matters
We often find ourselves discussing fluency rate and the proper way to score fluency assessments. Some people are in the camp of counting ‘words per minute’. Others hold the stance of scoring ‘correct words per minute’. We firmly believe in scoring ‘correct words per minute’ because fluency is not just about rate; it’s about accuracy as well. Both rate and accuracy impact comprehension which is the ultimate goal of reading. Using the formula for determining fluency rate, we will demonstrate the difference between the two types of scoring systems.
Formula for fluency rate only:
Total # words read _____x (multiply by) 60; ÷ (divide by) # of seconds to read passage = words per minute (wpm)
Formula for fluency rate AND accuracy:
Total # words read correctly _____x (multiply by) 60; ÷ (divide by) # of seconds to read passage = correct words per minute (cwpm)
Example: A second grade student reads a grade level passage of 116 words. The student reads the passage in 80 seconds and makes 21 errors.
Using the 1st formula: 116 x 60 = 6960; 6960 ÷ 80 = 87 WPM. The student reading rate appears to be 87 WPM (end of grade level benchmark).
However, using the 2nd formula that calculates the correct number of words read, the fluency rate changes dramatically.
95 x 60 = 5700; 5700 ÷ 80 = 71 CWPM. The student is not reading with grade level fluency.
Scoring only words per minute can give teachers a false positive. It may seem like the student is reading fluently, but upon closer inspection another story begins to emerge. The student read rapidly, but skipped over longer words and/or misread common sight words. This provides a window into the type of targeted instruction from which the student would benefit.
If the student is skipping or mumbling through longer words then multisyllabic word study is probably necessary.
If the student is primarily misreading common words (a/an, this/his) and not self-correcting then he must learn to monitor for meaning. This same student may benefit from review of high frequency words as well as monitoring for meaning.
The following is a timed fluency read by a second grader:
Here is the text:
I don’t mind visiting my dentist’s office. There are lots of things I can do while I wait. My dentist has some puzzles I can put together. There is a big TV in the waiting room. There are stacks of blue and green blocks I can use for building. When I build a tower, sometimes my brother knocks it down. Then I just stare at him and start over.
Every door has a flower painted on it. Inside there is a big chair that lifts up and down…
The student read 88 Words Per Minute. Wow! Not bad for a Grade 2 spring fluency rate. After all, the benchmark goal for Grade 2 is 87 CWPM.
But, as we said earlier, it’s not just about rate. It’s also important to account for errors. Let’s take a closer look at what the student actually read and calculate CORRECT words per minute.
Words containing strikethroughs were the original words of the text. Words in red are the substituted words. Strikethroughs not followed by words in red were simply skipped.
mind meend visiting my the dentist’s office. There are lots of things I can do while will I wait. My The dentist has some puzzles pizzas I can put but together. There is a big TV in the waiting room. There are stacks of for blue and green blocks I can use for building buy. When I build buy a tower tall, sometimes my brother knocks kicks it down. Then I just stare start at him and start over.
door dentist has a flower painted on it. Inside there is a big chair couch that lifts lets up you and down.
This student read 53 CWPM, which is well below the Spring goal and indicates that this student is in need of further support.
Here is the same text as read aloud by a student:
I don’t meend visiting the dentist’s office. There are lots of things I can do will I wait. The dentist has some pizzas I can but. Stacks for blue and green blocks I can buy. When I buy a tall, sometimes my brother kicks it down. Then I just start at him and start over.
Every dentist has a flower. Inside there is a big couch that lets you down.
In addition to rate, this reading sample indicates the student is in need of further instruction such as:
- Strengthening word attack
- closed syllables -ind found in mind
- silent e – found in while and stare
- consonant +le – found in puzzles
- digraphs – ch found in chair
- Using more than just the beginning letter to decode multisyllabic words – tower, building
- High frequency words: put, my, of…
- Monitoring for meaning
- Tracking (to reduce the number of words and lines skipped)
That seems overwhelming. Where do I begin?
Decoding is the primary foundational skill that is the building block for all other skills. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Check out our “Overview of the Six Syllable Types”. It’s a great place to start.
Meanwhile, another important skill is fluency itself. Modeling of fluent reading and opportunities to reread a text are two powerful ways to increase fluency. Our Fluency bundle contains everything you need to set your students on the path of fluent reading.