In case you were still under the misapprehension that balanced literacy was a state-of-the-art blend of the best of code-based reading instruction and the best of whole language theory, the Critical Reading Inventory should help disabuse you of that notion.
The problem with balanced literacy is that even though it typically includes phonics-like activities, it is not based on alphabetic code-based reading instruction. The dirty little secret behind balanced literacy is that for all the lip-service that's paid to phonics, in balanced literacy the decoding of text using the alphabetic code can be replaced with the guessing of word identity based on non-phonological information. In balanced literacy, decoding errors can be ignored if the reader guesses a word that means about the same thing as the word that the reader is unable to properly decode. That doesn't sound very balanced to me. Doesn't sound like decoding either.
The Critical Reading Inventory helpfully makes public their scoring assistant website in which teachers learn the black art of miscue analysis (i.e., ignoring decoding errors). Two case studies are provided laying out all the gory details. (Beware this is not for the faint of heart.) Let's take a look at a scoring sheet from the second case study in which "John," a fifth grader, struggles to decode a third grade text.
As you can see, John has made numerous (over 20) decoding errors half of which have been ignored because of the miscue analysis. All the errors with a plus sign (+) in the margin have been ignored because John's errors didn't affect the meaning of the text.
This is how you make it seem like a student has learned how to read when he really hasn't yet. But doesn't it all look so scientific and professional. We have "case studies" which sounds like science. And science is good. right? And we have fancy jargon like "miscue analysis" which makes it seem so professional like these educators really know what they're doing. You can trust us with your child's education.
And, that's just the decoding part of the test, wait until we get to the comprehension part.