College of Education improves grade school reading tool

A $200,000 Department of Education grant to the Eugene software firm Emberex will help a team of researchers, led by a College of Education faculty member, make their already successful diagnostic tool easier for teachers to put test results into action.

The Multiple-Choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment, also known as MOCCA,  tests students in grades 3 through 6 on reading comprehension, then shows teachers not only which are having difficulty but zeroes in on precisely what aspect of reading they are having a hard time with. MOCCA development is being led by four universities — the UO, University of Minnesota, Georgia State University and Chico State University — that will be working with Emberex to improve access to and use of the assessment tool.

The researchers — who include College of Education professor Gina Biancarosa and Georgia State professor Sarah E. Carlson, a former UO Center on Teaching and Learning postdoctoral fellow — will use the grant funds to refine the data from the assessments to make it more easily understood and user-friendly for teachers who don’t have time to decipher the meaning of complex scores. They also want to do it in a way that easily shows teachers why the test is useful.

“This is allowing us to really focus on the teacher experience of the measures and to provide them the data in a more usable form that's more intuitive,” Biancarosa said.

The grant comes from the Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

MOCCA is based on decades of research on the processes around reading comprehension. It processes response patterns and looks at students’ ability to make inferences necessary to understand what they read.

It puts students into four categories, including “on track,” those who consistently make the necessary inferences; elaborator, those who make inferences but that aren’t always necessary; paraphraser, those who stick to the literal message of text and make few inferences; and “mixed,” students who don’t make necessary inferences and do not show a clear pattern in how they approach comprehension.

This is just the most recent grant for MOCCA, which is the only normed and validated reading comprehension test of its kind. MOCCA researchers also are currently working on an additional pair of grant-funded projects. One is refining the science behind the program to shorten the assessment while making the scores more precise and reliable, and the other is expanding it for use with college students.

“In the last couple of years there's been a real movement in education, particularly around data-based decision-making, but we tend to be swamping teachers with all this data and not giving them enough ways to understand the relevance of that data and to synthesize it with other data sources that they're getting,” Biancarosa said. “That's really the big focus of this: Removing the barrier by making it that much easier to understand.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications