COE researchers developing new assessment for oral reading

Child reading to stuffed animals
September 4, 2020 - 5:00am

College of Education researchers are developing an improved oral reading fluency test that will help educators better identify students in need of additional support.

This project, “A Comprehensive Measure of Reading Fluency: Uniting and Scaling Accuracy, Rate, and Prosody,” will create an assessment to measure how well students read to provide educators with more information on their abilities. Most traditional reading fluency models used by teachers today do not measure prosody, the tone, emphasis and rhythm of a word or phrase’s enunciation.

Professor Leilani Sáez said incorporating prosody into the assessment process allows teachers to better evaluate how students process connected text. This includes whether the reading is fluid and if words are correctly emphasized or de-emphasized.

“Fluent oral reading sounds like speech, having rhythm, emphasis and pitch changes,” Sáez said. “Yet, this aspect of gauging children’s fluency is often not systematically measured.”

The goal of reading is not only for students to read quickly but also for them to read at a fast enough pace that allows the meaning to be understood.

As they are now, oral reading fluency assessments are conducted on students individually, making it an extensive and time-consuming process to test an entire class. The research team believes traditional assessments are less accurate, which is problematic when they are used to make educational decisions for students.

To address the resource demands of individual tests and to increase accuracy, the team is developing speech recognition software that will be entirely administered and scored by computers. The software will allow for assessments to be translated into an application that will allow reading fluency to be tracked through grade levels and continually monitored for accuracy.

In addition to Saez, the research team is comprised of principle investigator Joe Nese, a trained school psychologist and research associate professor at the College of Education. Akihito Kamata is a psychometrician at Southern Methodist University who will lead efforts to measure and score prosody. Rhonda Nese, assistant professor in the Special Education Program, will ensure the assessment is feasible for teachers and efficient for administrators. Sáez, an educational psychologist, will lead the development of reading comprehension questions.

This team received a $1.4 million, four-year grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences to fund its research. A previous IES grant awarded to Nese and Kamata laid much of the foundation for the project.

“We hope that our project can increase the reliability and validity of decisions made from oral reading fluency scores, resulting in better identification of students in need of reading interventions and better evaluation of those interventions,” Nese said.

By Meghan Mortensen, College of Education