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Student Performance Level (SPL) Descriptors for Reading and Writing



Note: These descriptors are for adult second language learners and do not represent K-12 grade level reading ability)

The descriptions below are averages across the range of what learners at the beginning of each level can do. Learners who are pre- or non-literate when they start to learn may move more slowly; learners who are fully literate in their native language may move faster. A pre-literate learner is one who comes from a society in which there was no written language, and therefore he/she has no exposure to print of any sort. Non-literate learners come from a society in which literacy is all around them (street signs, labels, newspapers), but they have no understanding of the concept of sound-symbol correspondence. (Note that learners whose native language is not written in the Roman alphabet will have special challenges in learning to read in English, no matter how literate they are.)

Reading is a combination of many different skills (e.g., sound-symbol correspondence, word recognition) and strategies (e.g., predicting, skimming for general meaning). Which skills and strategies adults choose to use while reading depend on the purpose of that reading. For example, when adults read a child's report card or a train schedule, they may scan to find grades in certain subjects or the arrival time of a certain train. When they read an article on nutrition, they may preview the headings and illustrations to get an idea what information might be included in the article. Readers predict information based on their experience and make inferences while making use of sound-symbol correspondence, word recognition, word order (syntactic information) and the meaning of the words (semantic information).

For second language learners, the reading process is more difficult. Their understanding of a text will be affected by their own cultural backgrounds and by literacy practices in their languages. They will not be able to make predictions from their experiences as easily as native English speakers. Also, spelling and word order may be very different in their native language. One way to introduce reading to second language learners is through texts that are relevant to their lives, which include familiar syntax and vocabulary, and predictable meaning. As students progress, texts on less familiar topics can be introduced. These will encourage students to employ an expanding array of skills and strategies as they develop their proficiency in reading in English.

Reading Levels

0 No ability whatsoever in English.

I Individual recognizes most letters of the alphabet and may be able to read one's own name or a few isolated words. Has a developing sense of phonemic awareness. Can probably read own address, telephone number, and other relevant numbers.

II Individual can recognize upper and lower case letters and environmental print (e.g. common signs, symbols, prices, etc.).

III Individual can read and comprehend simple learned phrases or short sentences, containing familiar vocabulary in familiar contexts, e.g. "where do you live?" Has a limited understanding of connected prose, and may need frequent re-readings.

IV Individual reads and understands simple sentences or short paragraphs or messages on familiar subjects (e.g., people, places, events) containing familiar vocabulary.

V Individual can read simple material on subjects of personal interest that have a clear underlying structure (e.g. main idea and supporting details) and can use some context to determine meaning.

VI Individual can read authentic instructions, descriptions, and narratives on familiar subjects or from which new vocabulary can be determined by context (e.g., a simple news story). Can recognize logical order and make some minimal inferences. Emerging reading strategies are evident, (e.g., can compare and contrast, sequence information, etc.).

VII Individual can read and understand material related to most adult roles. Can interpret descriptive narratives, predict, and infer meaning from material on familiar topics. Can skim and scan for meaning e.g. consumer information, manuals, memos.

VIII Individual can read and understand authentic material on unfamiliar topics, but may have trouble with difficult vocabulary or grammar. Skims and scans, compares, contrasts, and sequences information with consistency. Understands the purpose of various texts (e.g., editorials, ads).

Revised Writing Levels

The descriptions below are averages across the range of what learners at the beginning of each level can do.

Writing enhances language acquisition as learners experiment with words, sentences, and larger chunks of writing to communicate their ideas effectively and to reinforce the grammar and vocabulary they re learning in class.

Writing includes two different skills: producing the correct printed symbol to represent sound (encoding speech) and the ability to arrange thoughts logically and coherently (cognitive writing) depending on the purpose and audience. There are also the conventions of writing such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraph formation.

Second language learners who are pre- or non-literate may have difficulty holding a pen or pencil and may also have difficulty with directionality (e.g., left to right, top to bottom). Learners who are literate in their native language may bring their cultural perceptions and expectations of appropriate organization and methods of expression to their writing. These may differ from English writing conventions. Learners can benefit from using examples of writings, outlines, and graphic organizers (e.g., Venn diagrams, webs) to prepare their writing. Grammar and vocabulary development should be integrated with writing instruction.

Writing Levels

0 No ability whatsoever in English.

I Individual can copy letters of the alphabet, numbers, own name and address. Individual may have difficulty using a writing instrument.

II Individual can write basic personal information and numbers and can complete simple forms. Can write sight words and may be able to write simple messages using learned phrases.

III Individual can write short sentences on basic personal information and on familiar subjects. There is emerging use of punctuation (e.g. period and question mark).

IV Individual can write simple sentences, notes and messages on familiar subjects, may write simple paragraphs. Has limited grammatical accuracy. Inconsistent use of the mechanics of writing, including capitalization, period, and question mark.

V Individual can write simple narrative descriptions on familiar topics (e.g. customs in native country, personal life experiences, note to teacher, etc.) Attempts to elaborate on main idea. Grammar is still inconsistent. Is gaining control of mechanics of writing.

VI Individual can write simple, multi-paragraph narratives. Can logically organize connected prose. Grammar is more consistent, with some use of transitions (and, but, although, yet, etc.). More control of mechanics of writing.

VII Individual can perform everyday writing tasks and write descriptive and narrative prose for a variety of purposes and audiences. Uses more complex structures. Can elaborate on subject; writing is more fluid. Uses appropriate mechanics of writing.

VIII Individual can write, giving relevant detail, and using appropriate tone and purpose. Writing is fluid. Grammatical errors do not impede meaning. Uses appropriate mechanics of writing.

Revisions to the original Student Performance Level Reading and Writing Level descriptions were prepared by Allene G. Grognet in consultation with ELT Partners (Myrna Ann Atkins, Miriam Burt, Burna Dunn, and other practitioners (Donna Moss, Peggy Seufert, Lynda Terrill, and Carol Van Duzer). January, 2003.