Observation Survey

Clay’s Observation Survey

Planned observations can capture evidence of early progress – Marie M. Clay

The measurement of early literacy behaviors is complex and requires a commitment to careful and systematic observation. An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement (Clay, 2002, 2005, 2016) provides a systematic way of capturing early reading and writing behaviors and is the primary assessment tool used in Reading Recovery. All of the tasks were developed in research studies to assess emergent literacy in young children.

Copymasters for the Observation Survey are available in the Members Only section of the website.

The Observation Survey is also widely used by classroom teachers and researchers. The Observation Survey is a teacher-administered standardized assessment that adheres to characteristics of sound measurement instruments: standard tasks, standard administration, real-world tasks to establish validity, and ways of knowing about reliability of observations.

Reading Recovery teachers receive extensive training in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of the Observation Survey. Exit testing is conducted by a teacher other than the one who worked with the student.

How is the Observation Survey used in the evaluation of Reading Recovery?
Each child in Reading Recovery is assessed using the Observation Survey before entering the intervention, when leaving the intervention, and at the end of the school year.

What other assessment tools are used in Reading Recovery?
To observe change over time in children’s literacy development, Reading Recovery teachers regularly and systematically use a range of instruments for recording and describing each child’s behaviors and emerging competencies. These include daily running records, daily lesson records, writing books, weekly records of text reading levels, and weekly records of reading and writing vocabulary. Careful observation and systematic recording of behaviors informs daily teaching decisions.

NCII again documents validity and reliability

An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement has again been reviewed and rated as a screening tool by the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). The Observation Survey showed classification accuracy in identifying at-risk students in the fall or winter of first grade based on a nationally representative sample. The assessment also demonstrated strong reliability and validity. The current Academic Screening Tools Chart updates a 2011 review by the National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI), when the Observation Survey also received highest ratings of Convincing Evidence.


Clay, M. M. (2002, 2005, 2016). An observation survey of early literacy achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.