There are two types of fluency- reading and writing. In either case, it can best be assessed with a well-chosen topic. For reading, there should be some unusual words, but not many and not the same one over and over again. For writing, it should be a topic most people can relate to.
In university writing environments, one way to assess fluency is by doing a 30 minute in-class assessment in which you give the students a prompt on a fairly simple topic ("how do you get ready for school in the morning?", "what is your favourite meal and why?") and have them write out a short essay by hand. I've found that there is a very good correlation between length of response to this sort of assignment and fluency. the student who can write a page or two, is likely to be fluent (perhaps not mechanically perfect, but that is a different issue) but the student who can write only a few sentences has issues with fluency.
Fluency as highlighted above can be identified by identifying expression and undertanding when reading a text. An ability to rephrase a text when discussing with a teacher can also help to establish the level of fluency. I often ask students to read something then put it in their own words, or highlight areas to be explained which require alternative vocabulary. I agree with #7 in that idioms are often an area which requires careful assessment to ensure clear comprehension and therefore fluency.
One tricky part of the definition of fluency is the ability to understand and correctly use the non-native language's idioms. Idioms are specific to languages and to cultures. They are not understood outside the specific language and culture in which they originate (unless really famous ones like those involving Babe Ruth or John Wayne ...). One part of fluency assessment, therefore, would cover idiom recognition (in listening and reading) and usage (in speaking and writing).
I agree with the above posts as well. The National Reading Panel defines reading with fluency by speed, such words read correctly per minute; accuracy, such as reading less than 10% of words in a passage incorrectly; expression, such as the ability to express emotion through phrasing, tone, and change in pitch while reading; and comprehension, which of course refers to a reader's ability to understand what is being read. One can calculate reading fluency by asking a student to read a passage and noting any errors the student makes. count the number of words the student read and subtract the errors the student made.
I have to agree with the above posts. I believe that fluency needs to be examined in three ways: listening (comprehension), reading, and speaking. Therefore, a teacher needs to assess on all three levels to determine fluency.
In order to do so, three different tests can be given, scores of each test need to be given, and fluency can be determined upon the scores.
I believe that all three aspects of language knowledge are important given most languages are written, spoken, and heard.
This is a debatable topic, as there are different types of fluency. I am actually very fluent in Spanish, as I am able to converse with ease and participate in conversations without any problem. However, if you asked me to read something out loud, the speed in which I could do this would be very slow. The same is true of my reading comprehension. Therefore I think you need to ask yourself what it is you mean by fluency and what you are testing for.
To some extent, the answer to this depends upon the age of the student. With young students, fluency may be assessed very directly by listening as the student reads aloud and tallying the number of miscues, times the student has to restart, and so on. Converting these numbers to a ratio of the total number of words read or attempted can provide an objective measurement of the student's fluency.
With older students, discussions and other demonstrations of comprehension are valuable assessments of fluency. The student who is unable to read and derive meaning from a given passage in a specified amount of time may be indicating that s/he is not a fluent reader.
Personally, I believe that the most effective way to assess fluency is to assess reading comprehension. Both seem so interdependent that I cannot imagine separating the two.
If a student is given something to read on level, and is not only able to answer questions, but participate in dialogue, it would show that the student had excellent comprehension skills—and fluency in that he/she was able to express ideas and join in open discussion. Isn't the idea of fluency the ability to express one's ideas clearly and succinctly?
In Leslie Pepper's "Does Fluency Affect Comprehension," she writes:
...one of the primary goals of reading instruction should be to enhance fluency.
Fluency is defined in this article as...
...the ability to read aloud expressively and automatically with understanding.
Fluency makes for a better reader, and a better ready makes for a more effective problem-solver.
Comprehension strategies can be helpful, and there are many, but in that I'm pretty traditional, I favor the modeling format for students in all areas of study:
Instruction in comprehension strategy use often involves the gradual release of responsibility, wherein teachers initially explain and model strategies.
With practice, as students improve, teachers become less involved. It's like holding onto the seat of a bike until the child gains his/her balance, and then letting go. Improved reading comprehension gives students a sense of personal success and leads to improved fluency.