Common Questions about the Benchmark Assessment System

With the upcoming release of the 2nd edition of our Benchmark Assessment System (BAS), we thought it would be helpful to look at some of the most frequently asked questions about what the system is and how it works.

For answers to more common questions about the Benchmark Assessment System, visit the Benchmark Assessment Frequently Asked Questions webpage or the Fountas & Pinnell Support Resources webpage.

What is the Benchmark Assessment System?

The Benchmark Assessment System is a one-on-one, comprehensive assessment to determine independent and instructional reading levels, for placing students on the Fountas & Pinnell A-Z Text Gradient, and connecting assessment to instruction with the Continuum of Literacy Learning. A benchmark assessement system is a series of texts that can be used to identify a student's current reading level and progress along a gradient of text levels over time. The word "benchmark" means a standard against which to measure something.


Why is benchmark assessment a valuable use of time?

Conducting benchmark assessment allows you to...

  • Determine your students' independent and instructional reading levels.
  • Determine reading placement levels and group students for reading instruction.
  • Select texts that will be productive for student's instruction.
  • Assess the outcomes of teaching.
  • Assess a new student's reading level for independent reading and instruction.
  • Identify students who need intervention.
  • Document student progress across a school year and across grade levels.
  • Inform parent conferences.

    Why are the criterion for accuracy so much more challenging for Benchmark Assessment System levels L-Z?

    Please see our document, "A Higher Criterion for Accuracy, Levels L-Z" (.doc) for a detailed explanation of why the accuracy criterion are increased significantly for the later levels.


    What is the source of the words in the Benchmark word lists?

    The Benchmark word lists were compiled to include the words that appear most frequently (in our survey of leveled texts) in the books that children read from earlier levels to about end of grade four. In addition all word lists were checked with several different lists, including both Spache and Dolch. They are not identical to either list but there is a great deal of consistency across them. Finally, the lists were check with teachers.

    The words that appear on the word lists are "tier 1 words," meaning that they are frequently used in oral language and in general literature. The lists do not include "tier 2" and "tier 3" words—words not in common use or technical words related to content areas. These words are those that appear most frequently.


    How does the Benchmark Assessment System address Response to Intervention (RTI) compliance?

    With the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, you can monitor reading level three times each year. This assessment will yield level (with equivalent grade levels), accuracy, fluency, and detailed information and scores on comprehension. This system has been extensively field tested. You can have students complete a writing prompt to further assess comprehension. You can use optional assessments to monitor progress in phonemic awareness, phonics, letter learning, and high frequency word knowledge. You can establish expectations in each of these areas based on your own district's requirements. A grid is currently in development to establish criteria for each grade level, beginning, middle, and end.


    Why are the Little Books for Benchmark 2 shorter than the ones for Benchmark 1?

    The books for Levels L-N in Benchmark 1 while longer (16 pp), contain illustrations that give young readers picture support. The books from L-Z in Benchmark 2 are shorter (4 pp), and contain almost no illustrations with the exception of nonfiction text features like diagrams and maps to support the older reader. Length is only one factor in text difficulty and it is not a significant one unless you are talking about a large difference (50 to 100) in number of pages (which would inevitably place a greater burden on memory). A short text can be very hard, with difficult vocabulary, complex sentences, and complex ideas. A long text can be easy, with familiar concepts and vocabulary and simple sentences.

    Another consideration was the amount of time required to administer the assessment. The length of selections in the the Benchmark System 2, provides an adequate sample for assessing an older child’s oral and silent reading, vocabulary, capacity to solve multisyllable words, and ability to interpret more sophisticated content.


    How do the Fountas & Pinnell Text Gradient Levels equate with Basal, DRA, Rigby, and Reading Recovery levels?

    View the Grade-Level Equivalence Chart (.pdf) to see how F&P Text Gradient levels equate with other readability scale levels.


    How do Lexile levels correlate to the Fountas & Pinnell Text Gradient levels?

    There may be a statistical correlation between Lexile levels and F & P levels. For example, if you run measures on thousands of books and over many levels, there would be a correlation. We have not performed these analyses ourselves. The lower F & P levels, in general, would have lower Lexile scores. The higher F & P levels generally would have higher scores. But this kind of correlation is not the same as a precise matching of levels, for example, a Lexile range of numbers corresponds to a specific A to Z level in a reliable way. The two systems are based on some of the same text factors but not all. Metametrics uses a mathematical formula, which they can explain. The F & P levels are based on the ten text factors named in several of our books. A group of raters reach reliability after independent analysis. We can not say with high prediction that a given book with a certain Lexile score will fall into a category on the F & P gradient. Every time we have looked at Lexile levels for texts that seem highly reliable on our scale, we have found a number of "outliers."


    Are the end of grade level benchmarks nationally normed?

    The grade level benchmarks are not nationally normed. That would take a large random sample of students taken across the United States and Canada and a great deal of testing. It is just not appropriate for this kind of system.

    The levels have, however, been tested in a large field study. The end-of-year expectations as defined in our system are consistent with recommended national standards from the National Center on Education and the Economy. Districts do have a choice in adjusting the expectations to meet their own standards. There are slight variations from place to place, but we have stated levels that indicate typical satisfactory progress.


    For answers to more common questions about the Benchmark Assessment System, visit the Benchmark Assessment Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

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