Reading Comprehension | 123Read&Write

Comprehension means the “capacity for understanding fully”. One's comprehension ability has a direct correlation with their understanding on any given text.

From its roots comprehensio, meaning to understand; the word comprehension, according to Merriam-Webster (2013), means the “capacity for understanding fully”. The person’s comprehension ability has a direct correlation with their understanding on any given text. The level of one’s reading comprehension abilities can be divided into two difficulty strands:

Let’s take the above web as a map for a real-world example. Student A has a reading assignment on Egyptian monuments. This student may be an avid reader of Sports Illustrated and Realistic Fiction novels; since that’s where their interest lies. However, they have little interest in non-fiction text. In this instance, Student A doesn’t necessarily have a reading comprehension deficiency. They may simply lack adequate prior knowledge (which affects interest level) to truly engage in the reading text.

It’s important to note that reading comprehension is never truly mastered. Our understanding of a reading text is always dependent on the knowledge of the content. For example, if this author were to read a Trigonometry chapter, difficulties would easily arise. Surely, I would understand most of the words in the text. However, to truly put these words together to formulate significant meaning; and thereby understanding would be very difficult, due to a lack of prior knowledge and understanding of this mathematical concept. To truly engage in this type of reading text, this author would need additional subject-specific focus.

When investigating reading comprehension levels, there are two testing components one can look to: norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests. See the Venn Diagram below:

To begin, a norm-referenced test’s main intention is to compare students to each other. A child’s specific score can be compared with other student scores, in varying capacities (i.e. school, region, etc.) An example of a norm-referenced test is a reading comprehension survey test. See below for an example:

The man caught his __________ fish of the day.

a. second

b. third

c. fourth         (correct)

d. first

This type of test is best suited for determining the effectiveness of a curriculum. It can also showcase the development of varying groups of students.

On the other hand, criterion-referenced tests offer detailed diagnostic information. An example of a criterion-referenced test is an IRI (Informal Reading Inventory). This assessment tests word identification skills, strategies, and comprehension. The format of an IRI is to closely resemble an in-class reading lesson. An example of a simple IRI is given below:

Brian has a dog.

The dog's name is Benji.

He can run quickly .

One day Benji ran away.

Brian looked for him.

The dog wanted to play.

Soon he came home.

31 Words

Number of errors _____

1. What does Brian have? (A dog)

2. What is the dog’s name? (Benji)

3. What can the dog do? (run fast or quickly)

4. What did Brian do when Benji ran away? (He went looking for him.)

5. What did the dog want? (To play)

_____Percent  _____Passed    _____Failed

Reference, June 4th, 2013, 11am.

In the end, an IRI can be a powerful tool with regards to assessing a child’s reading comprehension level. For the test to be effective, however, both the expectations of the test and the assessment instrument itself must correlate.

While no certain type of assessment tool is perfect, if administered, scored, and deciphered adequately, the results should offer a good starting point in working to improve a child’s reading comprehension level.


Rude, Robert T., and William J. Oehlkers. Helping Students with Reading Problems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984. Print.