Observation Survey

Clay’s Observation Survey

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

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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.

What does the Observation Survey measure?

The Observation Survey includes six literacy tasks, all of which are necessary for describing a young child’s emerging reading and writing behaviors:

  • Letter Identification to determine which letters the child knows and how they identify them
  • Word Test to determine if the child is building a personal resource of reading vocabulary
  • Concepts About Print to determine what the child knows about the way spoken language is represented in print
  • Writing Vocabulary to determine if the child is building a personal resource of known words that can be written in every detail
  • Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words to assess phonemic awareness by determining how the child represents sounds in graphic form
  • Text Reading to determine an appropriate level of text difficulty and to record what the child does when reading continuous text (using a running record)

Who uses the Observation Survey?

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. 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 the reliability of observations.

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.

What is the Validity and Reliability of the OS?

An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement has 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. Read more about the technical review of the OS by NCRTI.


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

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Fall 2023