Saturday, February 7, 2015

Assessment and instruction of oral reading fluency among adults with low literacy

Daryl Mellard, Kari Woods and Emily Fall analyzed adults with low literacy levels to see if they could identify categories of fluency needs and make educational suggestions based on words read per minute and word errors per minute. The reported on their results in Assessment and Instruction of Oral Reading Fluency Among Adults with Low Literacy. They studied 295 low literacy adults (over 16 and attending adult literacy programing). They used data from the National Reporting System (NRS) which classifies literacy levels 1- adult basic education beginning literacy to level 6- high adult secondary education. A wide variety of assessments were administered to estimate IQ and identify reading and vocabulary levels. From there they identified four subgroups and made instructional suggestions. These results are summarized in the table below.

Most Fluent Readers (MFR)
Context Readers (CR)
Print-bound readers (PR)
Dysfluent Readers (DR)
Reading level
NRS level
45% level 6; 0 % level 1
34% level 4; 27% level 5; 11% level 1 or 2
29% level 5 or 6;
40% level 3 or 4;
31% level 1 or 2
18% level 1; 33% level 2; 28 % level 3; 4% level 5 or 6
Grade level
Reading rate/ comprehension
5th/ 8th
1st or 2nd/2nd
Words per minute
Errors per minute
·         Word level skills
·         Phonemic awareness
·         Sight word reading
·         Rapid naming
·         Reading comprehension
·         Phonetic skills
·         Non-reading tasks
·         Listening comprehension
·         Information
·         Picture vocabulary
·         Listening comprehension
·         Information
·         Picture vocabulary
·         Information
·         Vocabulary
·         Elision tests
·         Rate-related abilities
·         Word level skills
Educational implications
·         Cause maybe from lack of opportunity or prior instruction
·         More reading practice
·         Build background knowledge and vocabulary
·         Strategies for building memory and drawing inferences
·         Attend to details of text beginning with controlled materials then wider range to build background knowledge and vocabulary
·         Develop word recognition automaticity
·         Reading practice to build processing speed
·         Perhaps build phonemic comparator function- hold and compare two phonemes and/or syllables
·         Intensive targeted interventions  


Why is this of interest to a teacher at the secondary level? Because our low level readers become these adults. The difference in reading skill between a high school graduate with significant learning disabilities and a high school drop out with reading disabilities may be irrelevant. Further, if we can use this information to help inform our instruction, it has value.  If we can say that students with fluency levels below 75 words read per minute with many errors need to be carefully analyzed to assess for phonemic awareness weaknesses, a skill rarely contemplated at the high school level, and if there is a weakness there we need to implement effective instruction in that area. Conversely those that read substantially slowly but make fewer errors should have phonetic skills analyzed and weaknesses addressed. Being able to examine at this level of detail may help us understand how to address needs. I have certainly been working with two students this year who demonstrate potential phonemic awareness weaknesses. If they cannot hear the difference between sounds, they will have difficulty reading and writing the words.

This could be an interesting element of data driven instruction that we utilize to help our students become better readers. If our DR students need phonemic awareness instruction where do we go to help? Learning Fundamentals offers some ideas with their software- watch the sounds being generated and then use a mirror to copy the sounds with visual clues established. The 100 Lessons program might also offer some clues as studied here and here. I propose that if the issue is a comparator function, perhaps the issue is related to memory. If this were the case, we would first have to identify any concerns and then develop memory skills. This research sheds an interesting light on reading instruction that certainly should be explored in more depth.

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