Process-oriented written language evaluation

Here are tools for conducting a process-oriented written language evaluation.   There are two main components: 

I. transcription  (e.g., In handwriting, letter formation, spacing, etc. and in typing, accuracy and speed)

II. language formulation (including discourse content and organization, sentence formulation and construction, word choice, spelling, the use of sentence conventions and proof-reading)


I.  Evaluating writing mechanics-

Observing letter formation and fluency in a copying task reduces(but doesn't remove) the demands of lexical, syntactic and discourse processing and allows better observation of the motor planning, praxia and visual-motor integration components, allowing you to focus more on handwriting legibility and automaticity.  

Procedure:  based on Graham, S. (2009-2010)

  1. Select a short paragraph (~200 words) from a book at the client’s grade level.
  2. Provide the client with a sheet of lined paper and a pencil.
  3. Tell the client: I’d like you to copy as much of this paragraph as you can in 1 ½ minutes (90 seconds). Please try to write legibly /so that I can read it.
  4. Using a stopwatch time as the client copies for 90 second. Say stop at the end of 90 seconds. Circle the last letter that was completed at the end of 90 seconds.
  5. Count the number of letters the client copied in 90 seconds. Compare the client’s number of letters per minute to the data in the table above. Graham advised “extra practice” for students who fall significantly below average (cut-offs in parentheses).  

         Handwriting fluency in paragraph copying

Mean Handwriting Speed(Graham, 2009-2010)

          Letters per Minute (cut-off for intervention)




Grade 1

21 (20 or fewer)

17 (10 or fewer)

Grade 2

36 (23 or fewer)

32 (19 or fewer)

Grade 3

50 (36 or fewer)

45 (31 or fewer)

Grade 4

66 (46 or fewer)

61 (41 or fewer)

Grade 5

75 (55 or fewer)

71 (51 or fewer)

Grade 6

91 (71 or fewer)

78 (58 or fewer)

Grade 7

109 (89 or fewer)

91 (71 or fewer)

Grade 8

118 (98 or fewer)

112 (92 or fewer)

Grade 9

121 (101 or fewer)

114 (94 or fewer)


 Describe issues that seem to be causing difficulty with handwriting:

  •  graphemic system: problems with letter formation and mirror invariance /letter reversals  (See Handwriting Instruction);
  •  motor planning: problems with the size and alignment of letters;
  •  praxia: difficulties with pencil/ pen control;
  •  visual motor integration: problems with letter spacing and placement.



II. Evaluating written language formulation- 

To evaluate a client's written language formulation collect a written language sample. To observe the client's ability to use a variety of discourse structures you may want to collect several samples (e.g., a narrative sample and one or more types of expository samples). Note that data collected using narrative and expository writing tasks are not comparable, so if you plan to use the analysis for progress-monitoring it will be important to use the same discourse genre task for all samples.  Use of a standardized procedure (e.g., Narrative Sample procedure from the *Test of Written Language /TOWL) allows both a standardized analysis and a descriptive analysis.  However you collect the writing sample, descriptive methods are likely to be more powerful for treatment planning than are standardized test results.  Analyze the sample, profiling the client's writing skills. The following data may be particularly helpful.  

A. Letter formation analysis:

1.  How accurately are letters formed? 

a) Are there reversals in the formation of letters. If so, do they occur only on letters that are a member of a confusable pair  (e.g., b, d, p, q, g)  or also on other letters  (e.g., s, k, c ) ?

b) Are there even spaces between letters and are there clear spaces between words?

c) Are letters written with a straight baseline or are they "all over the page"?

2. Does the child use lower case and uppercase letters accurately and purposefully?


B. Word/sound level analysis:

1.  How accurately are words spelled?  (What is the percentage of words spelled accurately?)

2.  How accurately does the client use spelling conventions ?  (e.g., Are proper nouns capitalized; Are contractions used accurately?)

3.  What are the client's spelling error patterns?  A spelling analysis can be done following the sequence of word structure targets in any structured literacy curriculum. This would begin, for example, by count the student's percent accuracy in spelling:

  • words with single, closed syllables/ short vowels and single consonants
  • words with single, closed syllable/ short vowels and consonant blends and/or digraphs
  • words with single syllables with r-controlled vowels
  • etc.


C. Sentence level analysis

1.. What is the percentage of grammatical sentences?

2.. What are the most frequent grammatical error patterns? 

3. How accurate is punctuation?   (What is the percentage of sentences punctuated accurately?)

4.  A measure of syntactic complexity, such as T-Units.


D. Discourse level analysis:

1. Does the client use elements of discourse structure appropriate to the writing task (e.g., narrative structure vs. expository structure)?

2. What discourse elements does the client use?  (For a list of narrative and expository discourse structures see Table 2, below, from Hall-Mills & Apel, 2012)

E. Global Statistics and Curriculum-Based Measures

Correct Writing Sequences (CWS) is a curriculum based measure of students�’ writing skills. CWS is a scoring system that looks at each successive pair of writing units (mainly words & punctuation marks) and counts the number of correct sequences, considering spelling, punctuation, capitalization and grammar. 

�“School-based research has shown that having students write a story for 3 minutes given an age-appropriate story starter, is a reliable and valid general outcome measure of general written expression for typically achieving students through grade 6 and for older students with severe writing problems.�” (AIMSWeb.com)  Whether you use 3-minute, 5-minute, 10-minute or 15-minute sampling, it is essential that the assessment period be the same for all monitoring periods.

Correct Minus Incorrect Word Sequences (CIWS) is similar to CWS. Just as with CWS each correct sequence is marked with a caret(^) and, in addition, each incorrect sequence is marked (with a asterisk (*). Then the total number of incorrect sequences is subtracted from the total number of correct sequences. The CIWS is the metric that is used on the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test®–Third Edition (WIAT®–III).

It is important to recognize that the writing task can impact measures like CWS and CIWS, so the same type of writing task must be used if measures are to be comparable.

Correct Writing Sequences (CWS)- Guidelines for scoring and interpreting:  Vanderbilt University , Dept. of Special Education has a useful set of guidelines and guidance for the CWS expected at specific grade levels:  Writing- -CBM






1.Farrall, M. L (2013). The Assessment of Written Syntax. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Vol 39 (3), pp. 31-36.

2. Graham, S. (Winter 2009-2010).  Want to Improve Children's Writing? Don't Neglect Their Handwriting. American Educator, Vol. 33(4), p. 20-40.

3. Hall-Mills, S. and Apel, K. (2012). Narrative and Expository Writing of Adolescents With Language-Learning Disabilities: A Pilot Study. Communication Disorders Quarterly, (Online First).


* NOTE: The  TOWL-4 takes longer to administer and it is not normed as low as the  TOWL-3


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