What Should Goals Be For Increasing Students’ Oral Reading Rates?

    by Elfrieda H. Hiebert | May 26, 2018

    The question of how much growth to set as goals for oral reading fluency depends on the grade level and where students are in relation to grade-level patterns. But before I give my recommendations, I would like to review several critical points about oral reading fluency.

    • Oral reading fluency has a ceiling or a point of diminishing returns. The average speaking rate of American adults is 150 words per minute–which is a reasonable goal for the end of elementary school oral reading rate. In fact, oral reading rates stabilize at sixth grade. Students at the 50th percentile attain a level of 150 wpm (yes, exactly the average speaking rates of adults). The problem is with the middle-school students below the 50th percentile. Their rates stabilize as well–and their rates are much too slow. [And the bigger problem, of course, is the nature of their silent reading rates–which increase somewhat over time but not sufficiently over the middle-school period.]
    • There is no data that indicates the number of words per minute that students absolutely have to have. I’ve identified 140 wpm by the end of Grade 5 as a good target. In analyses of students’ reading, that level appears sufficient to ensure solid comprehension (Always keep in mind: It’s the transfer of fluency to silent reading that matters by the time that students get to third-grade assessments).
    • Increases in knowledge are as critical as increases in oral reading fluency. Background knowledge is the strongest predictor of any variable in students’ comprehension. Many American students, especially those who are struggling as readers, simply don’t bring sufficient background knowledge and engagement to their reading. Emphasizing what it is that students have learned from the semantic maps that accompany each set of passages in QuickReads is one way to keep students focused on what they are learning, not just how much their automaticity has increased.

    I now turn to suggestions for goals “per week” growth in oral reading rates.

    • Remember that the biggest challenge with oral reading fluency is that, for every week that students do not read, they lose an average of a word a week. At all grades except first grade, students lose from 11 to 14% of their automaticity rates over the summer. In other words, the first quarter of school is spent recuperating the automaticity that the students had when they left school. That is one reason why, at TextProject, we have provided SummerReadsfree, downloadable texts–to keep kids on the page in the summer.
    • Below is a chart that illustrate the typical oral reading rates for students from grades 1 through 5. As this shows, students at the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles all make approximately the same amounts of growth over time (but start out at different points). The challenge–and promise of QuickReadsis a change in these patterns for students below the 50th percentile. If over a school year, second through fifth graders can steadily add a “little extra” (.5 word!) to their automaticity rate, they will be at the target 140 wpm by the end of Grade 5.
    • Here are approximate goals for students below the 50th percentile at different grades based on the DIBELS norms (Dewey, Kaminski, & Good, 2014) and the Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) norms.
      • Second graders: 1.5 words a week. (i.e., typical 1 word per week + .5)
      • Third graders: 1 word a week (i.e., typical .5 word per week +.5)
      • Fourth graders: 1 word a week (i.e., typical .5 word per week +.5)
      • 5th graders: 1 word a week (i.e., typical .5 word per week +.5)

    Don’t forget: The ultimate goal is acquiring knowledge from texts and remembering that knowledge!



    Dewey, E.N., Kaminski, R.A., & Good, R.H. (2014). DIBELS Next® National Norms 2012-2013 (Technical Report No. 17.) Eugene, OR: Dynamic Measurement Group.

    Hasbrouck, J., & Tindal, G. A. (2006). Oral reading fluency norms: A valuable assessment tool for reading teachers. The Reading Teacher, 59(7), 636-644.