Teaching students to read is one of the hardest jobs in education and teachers don't receive enough support to ensure students are on-track to reading proficiency. STEP changes this reality.

What is STEP?

STEP (Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress) is a research-based formative assessment, data management, and professional learning system designed to build teacher capacity for literacy instruction and provide educators with the data necessary to improve student achievement in literacy across grades K-5. 

Early reading proficiency is a key milestone for all students, but too often students miss that critical marker. When children fall behind in literacy development, it becomes difficult for them to catch up to on grade-level peers. Further, teachers working with students who have missed developmental milestones often have insufficient data to both identify where the student is struggling and how best to intervene. STEP was originally developed by a team of researchers and practitioners and led by Tony Bryk and David Kerbow at UChicago’s Urban Education Institute to help provide teachers with access to the data and skills needed to improve student outcomes. 


STEP provides districts and networks a meaningful, developmental literacy assessment that offers schools, leaders, and teachers rich, reliable student data. With STEP data, educators are equipped to increase the number of students on track to reading proficiency. In addition, STEP's team of Managers of Professional Learning empowers teachers to interpret and act on STEP data to improve and/or modify literacy practices to boost student achievement.

According to STEP’s validation report, students who reach STEP 12 by the end of third grade have an 86% chance of meeting or exceeding state standards.

STEP Features

The STEP Assessment

The STEP Assessment is an online, formative literacy assessment that provides educators with the insight needed to tailor instruction to meet the literacy needs of their students. When using STEP, teachers assess students at multiple points throughout the year to determine current achievement and instructional needs. Students progress across 19 distinct developmental steps toward the level of reading proficiency expected for grades Kindergarten through 5th grade. STEP offers two distinct assessment series, “Construct & Stabilize” and “Strengthen & Expand.”

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STEP: Construct & Stabilize Series

The Construct & Stabilize series supports students with reading levels equivalent to the Kindergarten through 3rd grade levels and is designed to inform teachers about student progression against primary literacy skills necessary to build a strong foundation for later literacy development. The series is available in two equally leveled fiction texts, as well as one nonfiction text, and assesses the following reading skills: 

  • Phonemic Awareness 
  • Concepts about Print 
  • Letter/Word Knowledge 
  • Reading Accuracy and Use of Word Solving Strategies 
  • Fluency and Reading Rate 
  • Comprehension Conversation 
  • Retelling 
  • Developmental Spelling 

STEP: Strengthen and Expand Series

The Strengthen & Expand series is designed to support students with reading levels equivalent to the 3rd through 5th grades. The series builds upon the foundational literacy skills established in the Construct & Stabilize series to deepen comprehension skills. It features nonfiction text with an emphasis on Science and Social Studies. The series assesses the following reading skills:

  • Vocabulary
  • Author’s Craft and Purpose
  • Text Analysis and Features
  • Comprehension
  • Written Response
  • Independent Compare and Contrast

Online Progress Monitoring

Online Progress Monitoring allows teachers to isolate and monitor a singular reading skill or set of skills aligned to each student’s assessed needs. All associated materials and resources for Online Progress Monitoring are available electronically through the Data Management System.

All data captured for interactive, online progress monitoring is housed within the STEP Data Management System, thus enabling a clear picture of each student’s ongoing needs and progress.

The STEP Data Management System

The STEP Data Management System supports educators in using data to inform literacy instruction for all students, including those struggling to read proficiently as well as those reading at or above grade level. Teachers use the system to individually administer the STEP Assessment to students and results are viewed in real-time. As a student works through the various components of the assessment, the teacher captures student responses and that information is immediately available for scoring and analysis—enabling teachers to quickly make data-informed adjustments to their literacy instruction. STEP Assessment results can be filtered to highlight student achievement and progress toward reading goals and viewed at the network/district, school, grade, classroom, group, and individual student levels.

STEP Data Displays

The STEP Data Management System provides comprehensive insight into students’ reading abilities through historical, descriptive student data. The system generates a range of data displays, negating the need for educators to create charts. 

The Network/District Wall

This Network/District Wall is a display of aggregate STEP achievement levels and growth for all schools within a network or district. Administrators can use this display to determine if assessment results have been entered, scored, and completed, as well as quickly identify high-level achievement trends across their schools.

Network/District Wall
The School Wall

The School Wall display provides a high-level view that indicates achievement and growth across and within grades represented in a school. School administrators and reading coaches use this display to identify achievement trends to determine and prioritize instructional supports for students and teachers.

school wall
The Classroom Wall

The Classroom Wall display provides teachers a snapshot of achievement for students in their classroom. Teachers use this display to track progress and growth within the term. This information should then be utilized to create groups and inform instructional planning.

classroom wall
Student Displays

Student level displays offer access to a cumulative record of each student’s performance that depicts the rate and dates of progress. This helpful display indicates if a student is progressing consistently or has hit a plateau at a particular developmental level.

student display
Component Level Display

This display provides teachers with details of achievement across the components of the assessment, such as rate, fluency, and comprehension. Users are also able to view target levels and student results for each item within the assessment.

component display
Assessment Scoring Deep Dive

Rather than scoring each assessment individually, the Assessment Scoring display allows teachers to score all student responses for the same question at one time. Here, teachers can quickly compare and score each response against the STEP target response and indicate if the student provided adequate text evidence.

assessment scoring


STEP Professional Learning

STEP Professional Learning (SPL) is designed to develop the knowledge base of teachers and support staff in developing the necessary skills for achieving reliable assessment data. The combination of the STEP Assessment data and comprehensive professional learning build staff capacity to provide instruction that promotes strong reading outcomes. Educators also gain a deep understanding of literacy best practices that enhance their overall instruction. Through STEP Professional Learning support, staff learn how to:

  • Interpret and respond instructionally to assessment data
  • Qualify which literacy skills should be progress monitored for each student and develop a process for doing so
  • Create and implement robust, effective reading lessons informed by STEP data 

SPL occurs in whole group, differentiated, and small group settings and is customized to align with school goals, teacher, and student needs. The SPL experience is unlike other professional development sessions. It is highly interactive and supports teachers in transforming concepts into actionable practice.

spl stat

The outcome of SPL is the use of school-wide, systematic, and consistent approaches to instruction, scoring, and collaborative planning practices. Teachers will feel supported and empowered to continue this work independently and effectively after receiving ample STEP support over multiple years.

Why STEP Professional Learning Works

In 2017, The Learning Policy Institute, a non-partisan research institute based in Palo Alto, California, sought to identify the most effective components of professional development. Their research resulted in seven key features for effective professional development sessions, all of which SPL exemplifies.

why spl works


STEP's Impact

steps impact