Here's a post taken from my book, Homeschool Hows And Whys.

Literacy is the cornerstone of education. A student with limited or no literacy is going to be very hard to educate! Until a student develops literacy to a level where study materials make sense to them, you as a teacher will be fighting a never-ending uphill battle that you and your student are doomed to lose. With this in mind, it is very important that you start your work as an educator handling a particular student with their literacy, both reading and writing.

How will you determine your student’s literacy? There are many tests and methods out there
that might be used for that purpose, but they may not be the best way to work. Tests can be
intimidating, and you very well may not get a real result due to the student’s overall upset with

I suggest the following possible methods:

- Have a student read aloud for you (without help or critique please). Start with books that you
believe may be well below the student’s ability, and I mean very well below. You may even need to begin with picture books. Start with a single example of what you think is “beginner literacy” material, like “See Spot run”. Then, continue to escalate the difficulty level. Do this for not much more than an hour per day, and spread it out. If the student gets hungry, feed him. If he’s tired, don’t bother to try this until he gets some rest. We want true and accurate results, unaffected by anything outside of the student’s literacy.

Try to use books the student has little or no previous experience with, as a reader.

You might go from a picture book with five one-syllable words per page, to a Dr. Seuss book or
something even simpler. From there, to a reader for young students, say ages 5-6. You could
have them read from some simple story written for that age, but beware classics! Yes, we all love The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. But such great books, though written for children, were often written to be read aloud to children by parents, and were written at a time when people were generally more literate than today. You may find more contemporary books of use, the student’s “class” or knowledge, we are only trying to ascertain his reading level. If you can provide the student options at each step on what he would like to read, do it. You may be spending a fair amount of time in a library.

Continue to escalate the difficulty. And one note – this is much easier to do if you have two copies of each work being read, one for the student to hold, and one for you to hold at the same time.

You will need to follow along, regardless, watching for:
- Words the student can’t pronounce.
- Words the student does not understand.
- Ideas that seem vague or incomprehensible to the student.

Please note, and this is important, a word or two, a vague thought or two which the the student uncovers, does not mean that you’ve found the student’s level. It may mean that the book you’re using hit a few words and ideas he does not get. You'll need more information than one reading can give you. Discovering the actual literacy of a person takes some time.
To be certain, let him read at the level you even suspect may be right for a while, around a week.

If he can read, even if it’s a bit of work, that is his level. Have dictionaries nearby. Make sure
they are dictionaries for students at different literacy levels, as well. Any word that the student
does not grasp will need to be looked up, or you will need to provide a clear definition that he can understand. But be helpful, not critical. And remember that what you’re doing is diagnostic, and not corrective.

When you believe you may have found roughly the level, confirm it with a second piece of
reading material that falls at roughly the same reading level. If the student can read it but with
some stretching and difficulty (not prohibitive, however), that’s about where you want to be. If
this takes you all the way up to A Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare, great!

- Another method is to provide the student actual lesson plans from a curricula, at escalating
levels of that curricula. (We’re assuming that the curricula is itself well-written in this regard.)
Start with the most elementary of lesson plans in a subject that the student does not mind reading about. Have the student either do the lesson plan completely, or read it aloud to you.

Again, we are looking for his level, that which he can do, even with some work.

Again, escalate as you see that a lesson plan is not difficult for your student. Do not ever work
through hunger or tiredness. (For what it’s worth, at we offer four “levels” of increasingly difficult materials that escalate as to literacy. These is Step 1 (ages 5-6,
preliterate); Step 2 (ages 7-8, developing literacy); Step 3 (ages 9-10) and Step 4
School (ages 11-adult). Each level past Starter offers a “Reading Test”, which actually consists of sample lesson plans, as described above. Here are links to those Reading “Tests”:

You'll find the reading tests on this site!  Just look at the menu bar above.