My Student Can't Read the Lowest Book - A Case Study

by Peter Dewitz | Oct 20, 2020 8:48:47 AM

At Read Side by Side we frequently hear teachers say, “Several of my students cannot read the lowest book club selection.” This matter-of-fact statement, tinged with disappointment, is often followed by permission to move to an easier text, one outside the three book club selections, but closely aligned to the students’ reading level. The assumption behind the teacher’s statement and request is the belief that students can best succeed when they are properly matched to just the right text. Yet, several researchers suggest that there is no such thing as the just right text and there is little or no research to support the practice of carefully matching children to texts, especially in the upper grades.

Beliefs About Reading Ability

I SurvivedMany classroom teachers base their beliefs about students’ reading ability on the results of a computerized test (iReady,Star or MAP). Earlier this year, at a school using the Read Side by Side Reading Program, three fifth-grade teachers were convinced that their lower-ability students would not be able to read the lowest book club text.   The school has a diverse population, many English learners and over 75% of the students qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Each of these students had taken the MAP Reading Growth Test and upon these results teachers were making instructional decisions.  I wanted to experience these students firsthand and determine if the predictions from the MAP test were true. Could students scoring below the 25th percentile actually read the lowest book club book, I Survived, Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis?

Case Study

I decided to assess the six lowest-achieving students in one fifth-grade CIA Assessment and Intervention Guide_cover_2 (dragged)-3classroom using the running record process from the Assessment and Intervention Guide. The six fifth-graders consisted of three special education students and three other students who had struggled with reading for several years. I assessed each student individually following the directions in the Assessment Guide. After a short introduction to the book, each student read a 200-word passage aloud while I recorded their oral reading miscues and timed their reading. They then continued to read three more pages of the text. When they finished, I asked a range of vocabulary and comprehension questions. The results are presented in the table that follows.

NWEA MAP Reading Results and Running Records Scores


NWEA MAP Reading Growth

Running Record – I Survived


RIT Scores



Lexile Range









60 -- 210







245 – 395







265 -- 415







425 – 575







435 – 585







525 -- 675




Analysis of MAP Scores

All six of these students scored poorly on the MAP test, with only one student, Lauren, scoring above the 25th percentile. Her scores indicated that she can read books with a Lexile range of 525 - 675. By comparison I Survived carries a Lexile score of 590. The other five students all scored below the 25th percentile and I Survived falls outside their reading range. All would likely struggle with I Survived, especially Kevin, Nick, and Rodney who, according to the MAP should be unable to read books at the 590 level. (I will ignore for now the variability of Lexile scores but consider how predictive they really are.) 

Analysis of Running Record Scores

The running record tells a different story than the MAP data provided. Four of the six students read the passage from I Survived with accuracy above 90%; meaning the book is at their instructional level. All of the students struggled some with fluency. A beginning fifth-grader, who is at the 50%ile for fluency, should read about 121 words correct per minute. All of these students are closer to the 25th percentile suggesting they can read the text but they may need more time to do so.  All the students struggled with comprehension, but the purpose of the C.I.A approach is to develop comprehension.

The results of the running record indicate that all six of these students can be successful with I Survived provided they receive the right support from their classroom teacher. Some will need help with fluency, others with word identification and all will need the structure of the C.I.A program. Had placement decisions been based on the MAP results, several of the six students might not have participated in the book club experience with their classmates unnecessarily depriving them of a great book and unnecessarily increasing the stigma of being a struggling reader.

I believe that the first thought of all teachers should be to help students succeed with the books the rest of the class is reading. All students should be part of the same curriculum and tackle the same ideas. They should consider justice, survival and the other important themes in good literature. This builds knowledge—the basis of good comprehension.


Written by

Peter Dewitz

Researcher & Consultant











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