Benchmarks

There are no changes to benchmarks for 2017-18.

The University of Virginia ensures that PALS assessments and benchmarks remain current through ongoing research and data analysis.  Benchmarks were last updated in Fall 2016.  For customers using older assessment materials, a crosswalk document and downloadable replacement pages can be found in the Materials section of your PALS Online account.

Benchmarks and Mid-Year Ranges Charts

Use the links below to view the PALS benchmarks, mid-year ranges, and top scores for PALS-K and PALS Plus.  A link to the PreK Spring Developmental Ranges and top scores is provided below.

(There are no mid-year ranges currently for PALS español.  See below for information about PALS-PreK Spring Developmental Ranges.)

The screening purpose of PALS-K and PALS Plus is to identify students who do not meet minimal competencies in important literacy fundamentals and who are in need of additional reading instruction beyond what is typically provided to developing readers. Meeting the Summed Score benchmark implies that the student has met a level of minimum competency and can be expected to show growth given regular classroom literacy instruction. It does not imply that the student is on grade level. The diagnostic purpose of PALS is to provide teachers with explicit information about what all of their students know and need to know regarding these literacy fundamentals so teachers can effectively tailor instruction and intervention to their students’ needs.

Benchmark scores are used only for the screening purpose of PALS. Students who do not meet the Summed Score benchmark in fall or spring are thus “identified” by PALS and must receive additional instruction beyond what regular classroom differentiation provides. This is typically referred to as “intervention.” This intervention should continue throughout the year, even if Mid-Year scores fall within Mid-Year Ranges, to ensure that these students are supported long enough to gain solid footing in literacy skills. In addition to participation in a literacy intervention program, these “identified” students should continue to receive reading and spelling instruction in the classroom that is appropriate to their instructional levels.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interpreting PALS Scores

How am I supposed to get my students reading at the text level required by state academic standards?

PALS assesses the foundational skills that students need in order to achieve the language arts goals outlined in state academic standards. By “identifying” students who do not have these foundational skills, PALS makes it possible to ensure that these students receive needed intervention to catch up. Both PALS assessments and PALS Electronic Lesson Plans are closely aligned with most state curricula. To make sure students reach end-of-year goals, use PALS data to determine students’ specific areas of instructional need. If you are using the most current PALS data to create small group lesson plans that target students’ needs with developmentally appropriate instruction, then students will progress at a faster rate, and be better prepared to meet the end of year reading goals.

The PALS benchmarks seem really low. Why?

PALS benchmarks are constructed for the screening (interim) purpose of PALS – to identify students who are at-risk for having difficulty learning to read, or who have a significant reading deficiency. The benchmarks are sufficiently low to prevent over-identification of students. The benchmarks are not randomly selected numbers; rather, they were derived from many years of data collection and a research-based profile of students who tend to struggle with reading development in the absence of intervention.

If a student reaches the Summed Score benchmark, does that mean s/he is on grade level?

Meeting PALS benchmarks, either the Summed Score or individual task benchmarks, does not guarantee a student will grow and be successful in reading. It does not mean the student is “on grade level” or will be at grade level by the end of the school year. It just means the student has the basic skills s/he needs at that point to continue learning to read if the student is provided with developmentally-appropriate literacy instruction in the classroom.

All of my students reached the fall benchmarks on all tasks. Does that mean I don’t need to do any intervention or further assessment?

PALS data can and should be used to drive and target differentiated instruction for all students, including those who exceed the benchmarks. Students who do meet the benchmarks may not need remedial intervention, but still need to receive literacy instruction that is targeted to meet their needs and strengths in each reading skill area in order to grow as readers. Furthermore, assessing at mid-year and spring continues to be important, even when students met benchmarks in the fall. Note that benchmarks are different in the spring than in the fall. Pay particular attention to “borderline” students (those who score at or just slightly above the benchmark) to ensure they don’t begin to struggle, fall behind, and later possibly end up identified and needing additional instruction (intervention). Look further at specific task scores and student responses to evaluate whether a student is struggling with specific skills, and to target reading instruction accordingly. It is advisable to administer the whole assessment again in the next window, especially with these students. Literacy skills are connected; they are not discrete isolated skills that have no impact on the development of the other skills. Note that the last thing a teacher would want to see is a student who meets the benchmark now (indicating they are ready to learn and move forward) but then later does not meet the benchmark because s/he did not receive instruction targeted to her/his needs and strengths.

If I don’t have any students identified by PALS, what should I do?

The short answer is that you should provide differentiated reading instruction for all your students so that everyone is making progress. A student who is not identified is not guaranteed to be successful and performing on grade level; it just means the regular classroom should provide the instruction the student needs to continue to make progress and be a successful reader. That success depends a lot (if not entirely) on appropriate classroom instruction. The diagnostic and progress monitoring purposes for using PALS are to gather and use data to determine the best differentiated instruction for each student, and to check whether that instruction is making a difference in the student learning to read. A student’s Summed Score alone (whether below the benchmark or just a few points above, or well above) does not give enough diagnostic information to plan instruction. Look at all of the PALS data collected to identify each student’s current stages of reading and spelling development–information that should be used for grouping and planning instruction for all students. In kindergarten, for instance, you may form small groups for all students according to their levels of Concept of Word development or instructional reading levels, and then focus on un-mastered skills (e.g., specific letters for alphabet recognition and letter sound knowledge). Students should not only have solid understandings of these subcomponents of reading, but also get plenty of supported experience with applying these skills in oral language activities and meaningful contexts (i.e., Concept of Word in text). The PALS Electronic Lesson Plans in the PALS Online System provide an example of how small group instruction should be tailored to meet the different needs of emergent, beginning, transitional, or intermediate/advanced readers. The underlying principle here is to use the data to inform your instruction. Meeting students where they have needs will provide the best, most targeted and effective instruction possible, which will in turn provide the strongest growth toward yearly instructional goals.

A Note About PALS-PreK Spring Developmental Ranges

Children arrive at preschool with varying levels of exposure to books, language, the alphabet, and word play. Many children who begin their preschool year not recognizing any letters soon catch up once they begin sharing this exposure to literacy instruction. Others may, for whatever reason, continue to lag behind even at the end of the preschool or kindergarten year. The screening purpose of PALS is to catch those students who are not displaying these literacy skills even after given instruction. Therefore, PreK is too early to identify a student as “at-risk” for reading difficulties. PALS PreK should be used to learn what students currently know and what they are ready to learn next, and can also be used to identify strengths and needs in the PreK program curriculum, but it is not a screening tool. No specific benchmarks are given for PALS-PreK; rather, PALS provides PreK Spring Developmental Ranges that reflect expectations for the spring of the 4-year-old year.