When I believe that a student is ready to finish he / she does the Observation Survey again. The student is asked to read some familiar and unseen books in order to check the strategies that are being used.
When Student A ‘graduated’ recently she was able to read books up to Level 19 that she had not seen before. I would say that this reading level was a decoding level for her. She was able to decode (work out) enough words for the book to be considered instructional (not too hard according to a mathematical formula that we use). However, she was not able to tell the teacher many of the important parts of the story, and further questioning revealed that she did not understand what she reading.
The main reason for reading is to gain meaning.
If you can say the words correctly (because you are good at putting the letters together), but you do not understand what you are reading, it is called ‘barking at print’. I might read a cookbook this way. I could sound like a great reader (only stumbling over a few words) but I would have no idea what most of the instructions meant. (I know this from the few cooking shows that I’ve seen on TV. The contestants use a different language to me, e.g. emulsify and temper the chocolate and blast chiller.)
Student A read up to Level 15 at a comprehension level. She was able to retell the main events and answer questions about the books. The comprehension level is often below the decoding level. It will depend on the understanding that the student brings to the book. If the student has a background in a language other than English it is likely that he / she will not know the meaning of many of the words. It is also harder to predict what will come next.
I can be reasonably confident that Student A will be able to read Level 15 books independently if she is familiar with the topic (ideas, setting, vocabulary, structure).
It is always a good idea to ask your child a few questions about a book to check he or she is understanding what is being read. You could ask your child to tell you what has happened so far. ‘Sounding good’ does not always mean that the reader is comprehending.