Full Discussion - Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults

Discussion Transcripts

  1. Reading Aloud
  2. Fluency in Reading
  3. Decoding and Word Recognition
  4. DIBELS and Tests for Measuring Low Level/Sub Skills
  5. Transitions

Reading Aloud

Hello everyone, I hope this email finds you well.

Today begins our discussion on

Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Supplemental Studies

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Sheida White and Dr. John Sabatini as guests for this 4-day discussion.  Please visit the URL below for the full announcement and information on accessing the report.

http://lincs.ed.gov/lincs/discussions/assessment/09readingskills.html

I hope you have had the opportunity to read through the Executive Summary of the report.  Please send your questions and comments about the report to the discussion list now. 

I will start us off with a question for subscribers:  What does the report tell you about the need for adult literacy services today, and how might this affect your program practice?

Thanks!

  

Marie Cora

Assessment Discussion List Moderator


In response to Marie's question, the report shows that there is a continuing need for adult literacy, especially at the lowest levels. With the current focus on transitions in adult education, there is a concern that students at these lowest levels will be neglected.

The report also highlights the importance of reading fluency. Adult literacy teachers often neglect fluency, saying their students would "rather die than read out loud". How can we help students improve their reading fluency in a non-threatening way?

Dianna Baycich


Thanks Dianna,

 

I think one of the critical issues is the focus of programs for adults at the least literate levels, including its purposes, shorter and longer terms.

 

Best,

 

George Demetrion


Hi Dianna,

I doubt that reading out loud increases fluency of reading comprehension.  Attention is diverted from understanding words to enunciating them.

My recommendation is that fear of reading out loud shouldn't be an issue --- reading TO students produces better results, in my opinion.

Michael Gyori


I agree, and in addition developing the organizational structures for "chunking down" a text, then re-forming it "in their own words." I don't see how students can learn writing without it.

Bonnie Odiorne

Writing Center, Post University, CT


A study made here on Guam showed that about 60% of freshmen enrolling into the postsecondary level are placed into a pre-college developmental English course. As an instructor in remedial reading, I discovered that my adult students did not comprehend well because they were not chunking appropriately. I found that read alouds drill the students in chunking thereby promoting fluency. It also gave an opportunity for mini lessons. I call my read aloud sessions karaoke nights. We do a sort of reader's theatre and every student is given a chance at the mic.   

Barbara Jacala


Hi Michael,

 

In our experience in working with beginning and low intermediate adult readers in small group contexts reading aloud combined with an assisted reading approach is a reasonably effective way of developing fluency. 
http://www.interventioncentral.org/htmdocs/interventions/rdngfluency/assistrdng.php. We have also found that comprehension is not usually diverted during such reading, but that reading out loud facilitates comprehension through a multi-sensory learning dynamic.

 

Best,

 

George Demetrion


Hi George,

Are you referring to ESL students, and if so, are they literate in their L1?

Thanks,

Michael


Michael,


Native English speakers, or those from different language groups who have attained fluent speaking and listening skills in English.  One of the critical linchpins is an assisted reading methodology implemented through a subtle scaffolding sensibility that yields the students successfully greater control in reading the passage independently to the extent that they gain the capacity to do so.  This is not meant to dismiss the importance of isolated skill work or concentration on comprehension activities, but only when working on fluency to utilize fluency-building methodologies and relevant methodologies at other portions of the lesson that correspond to what is being emphasized.

 

Even in fluency work assisted reading is only one (often underutilized) method.  Giving students texts short texts that they can read independently and/or building in word attack skills while working with a small passage is also feasible.  It all depends on what you are seeking to accomplish.  In the assisted reading approach, comprehension is reinforced through the multiple readings of a text

 

Best,

 

George


Bonnie,

I found that I could read Turkish out loud very well, during a summer of training ESL teachers in Turkey, and had no vague idea what I was saying. Written and spoken Turkish are very close. Except for students who want to be radio announcers or preachers, I'm not sure what it accomplishes. 

Ted
www.tedklein-ESL.com


Absolutely. I, too, have encountered that in ESL and even lower level readers whose first language is English: fluent reading, but no comprehension. Comprehension can usually be determined by intonation and phrasing before asking comprehension questions.

Bonnie Odiorne


Reading aloud can help build new neural pathways, Ted, as part of the larger brain development for low-level readers who need help in all the areas.  The Lindamood-Bell multi-sensory program has an important strand called Visualizing and Verbalizing, and we know that students who can verbalize about what they are reading retain information better, so learning to read aloud can be quite useful.

It's also a helpful technique when reading works by Shakespeare and other challenging poetry and literature. The ear can hear what the eye sometimes cannot process quite as well.

Stephanie Moran


Stephanie,

The main thing that bothers me about reading out loud is that too many non-communication-centered ESL teachers, who lack some of the skills to make their students functional in listening and speaking, depend way too much on asking their students to read out loud almost as the "end all." I have observed that the less experienced teachers are, the more dependency there is on "open your book to page 17" followed by "read the first paragraph to the class."

My students get to read dialogs out loud when the "acting out" phase begins. Otherwise, they read other materials to themselves, answer questions about what they have read and do make progress. I agree that new neural pathways need opening, so that's one reason we do one long dialog weekly. However out-loud reading is often overdone.

Ted
www.tedklein-ESL.com  


Right-- reading aloud should not be a substitute for poor teacher prep.

Stephanie Moran


What are we doing when we read aloud?
http://www.nrdc.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=1514

Sam Duncan, an adult literacy coordinator at the Institute of Education, University of London, and a literacy tutor at City and Islington College, "has been listening to what learners say about their (adult learners') experience of reading aloud."  You might want to read his report at the above link.

He concludes: "What strikes me are the connections these learners stress - connections between reading aloud as an important social act and reading aloud as a way to get better at reading, as well as connections between things you do and things others do for you. For these learners, reading aloud, like reading silently, isn't something we need to debate; it is already part of our lives."

Ranee Cervania

Curriculum Specialist/College Connection Coordinator

Ready for College - Colorado Success UNlimited (SUN)


I want to add one more comment about reading out loud that has not been addressed.  If someone is an auditory learner, reading comprehension and recall of text is greatly aided by listening to himself read.  Many students have IEP's written so they are tested in isolation and can read the test materials out loud.

Margie Kinslow

Literacy Alliance of Brevard/

Brevard Adult Literacy Volunteers

Titusville, FL


I'd like to add a comment along these lines as well.  Many ESL students who have low L1 literacy have become, by necessity, strong auditory learners.  Hearing the reading aloud can be a bridge for them between the written text and the oral language.  However, in teaching reading to all levels of ESL students, I never have one student read out loud to the class. (It seems to me to leave the rest of class potentially unengaged for those moments.)  


The model I use is: instructor reads material to students and leads discussion of vocabulary and comprehension; instructor reads one sentence at a time with students repeating each sentence and then again discuss vocabulary and comprehension.  Then instructor and students read chorally together.  After that, as a review later, students read out loud, one at a time, in small groups of three to four while the instructor moves from group to group and monitors their reading.

Pamela Ferguson


Hearing the whole text first is indeed an important bridge for all our ESL students.  After that, I would prefer to say that the teacher asks the students about the vocabulary they want to clarify and lead a meaning negotiation discussion and asks questions to scaffold comprehension.  Then, I would suggest reading by chunks and having students repeat chorally.  I also do a round-robin reading providing assisted reading as needed.  I like the idea of small group reading as well.  Finally, pair practice could be added as a review or recapitulation at the end or at another time. 

Nicole Graves

The Center for New Americans

Northampton, Amherst, Greenfield, MA


Well, yes, the vocabulary discussed is the vocabulary the students ask about.  That's what I meant!

Pamela Ferguson


I just pointed that out because often the vocabulary is pre-selected by the publishers.  I like to hide it from students at first to foster meaning negotiation.  In the end, it is often the same words but they have been encountered in context and negotiated in context as well.

Nicole Graves


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Fluency in Reading

Hello,

A few comments/observations regarding reading fluency.  Note that we used reading aloud as an assessment technique, not as instruction, in the NAAL.  There's an entire discussion about why it is a useful and valid measure for a survey assessment like the NAAL, and how it can be used as a classroom assessment that is helpful to the teacher and learners.  But let me focus on the comment about reading fluency in instruction.

First, reading aloud in a public setting like a classroom can create anxiety for any adult or child, especially if one is not good at it.  Also, one is often asked to read 'cold', that is, without having had a chance to pre-read, rehearse or practice with the text.  So, just be asked to read aloud without setting up a safe, constructive environment is risky.

Having said that, reading aloud is a useful reading sub-skill.  As adults, there are a number of contexts in which reading aloud is quite natural - reading to children, public speaking, rehearsing for a play (even for leisure vs. professional acting).  It is a useful work skill, for example, in a phone customer service job, one might be expected to look up information and read it aloud to the person at the other end of the phone.  Families also communicate to each other reading aloud at times.  It may not be a frequently used reading behavior, but it is a stretch to treat it as inauthentic or unnatural.  Skilled reading adults typically feel comfortable reading aloud with fluency.  Developing readers should not be denied the skill -- it is useful and typically a by-product of skilled reading - though some practice always helps in any domain.

So, giving adults with low literacy practice reading aloud in a safe, pedagogical setting can have benefits.  The instructional techniques built around 'guided repeated reading' have been shown to have benefits for developing readers both in improving reading fluency and are associated with comprehension gain.  In a study our team has been conducting, we have had positive results with a one-on-one tutored guided repeated reading program, as well as other structured programs that had adults frequently reading aloud.  But again, this was one on one with a trained teacher/tutor and a structured instructional program based on the best of what we learned about the techniques.  Adults generally reported positive responses to the instruction and we saw improvements in tests of skills, but we are still analyzing data, so best to treat this as promising practice at this point.

Finally, reading fluency is not a substitute for reading comprehension instruction and skills.  One can read aloud a text with fluency and not have good comprehension of the same text.  As a skilled reader, I am generally fluent with all but the most dense texts, but my understanding is a function of other factors including my background knowledge.  And it does require attention to perform a text by reading aloud - I don't try to simultaneously read aloud and gain deep understanding of a text.  When I seek understanding, I reread a text and think about it, maybe discuss with others. 

I'd like to hear from others who have experience teaching guided repeated reading with adults have to say about it.

Best,

John


Reading fluency actually is a demonstration of the automaticity of the student's decoding ability. One of the huge issues with our low literacy learners is that they use all of their cognitive resources on decoding, and there is nothing left for comprehension. When we see our lowest literacy learners begin to develop fluency in their reading, we know one of two things: a) they are recognizing the words more automatically or b) they have memorized the text if the book is overly familiar (and I am not going there!) When the learner starts to phrase in their reading, they grasp a cognitive chunk and the brain can make sense of that information. We know that the working brain can only manage 7 +/- 2 bits of information at a time. When the words get grouped into a chunk, they count as 1 unit, rather than several individual bits. When the chunks combine into an idea, they reform into 1 bit again, leaving room for new information. Sweller's theories of cognitive overload come into play here. Our lowest literacy learners have the hardest time because their brains are stuffed too full with decoding of individual words that they can't recall the content for comprehension.

In my dissertation work one of the clearest threads to come from the low literacy learners was that the goal of reading was about saying the words correctly, NOT about getting meaning from the text. If you consider the concept of cognitive overload, and their struggles with decoding words, this makes sense. However, if we can cause these learners to interact with text with words they are familiar with, we can teach them to group the words and "read it like you would say it". The best way to create this scenario is with material that is very easy for the learner to read, using material that is at their independent reading level, rather than instructional level. Using different "voices" allows the learner to play with the language and practice it, having fun with the process. By asking them to read it like a very old man, or a giant football player, or a squeaky mouse focuses them on the character and the voice, and they talk the part, using the language to communicate. This is the same with story books where there are different voices. A tape recorder is an effective way for the learner to self-critique their reading. As we partner with them on their improvement, sometimes that distance helps.

Fluency also helps us teach them about the pauses for punctuation and the other signals that we automatically use to help make sense of what we read. Early readers word call single words and need to transition to fluent reading to help the brain process it as received language. Our observations of their fluency can help us assist them in their metacognitive processing if we help them talk through what they are hearing and thinking as they are reading.

Jean Marrapodi, PhD, CPLP

Providence, RI


Jean:  Thank you for this excellent post on fluency.  Fluency is vital for reading comprehension.  Repeated readings are a good method for improving fluency.  Much information about it on the internet.  Also, timing the reading and trying to improve the time is also useful.  I would not do this in a group format.

Mary S. Kelly, PhD

Director, Fisher Landau Center for the Treatment of LD

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Bronx, NY 10463


It has been proven that improved fluency results in better comprehension.  Whether read out loud or silently, text that is read too slowly, too fast, or with broken phrases, results in reduced comprehension.  Silent reading has been found to usually mimic the reader's pace and phrasing habits used in reading out loud.  Good readers read silently with mental intonation and expression. 

As teachers, it is necessary for us to hear a student read to assess accuracy, acceptability (not counting self-corrections as miscues,) and fluency.  The more a student reads for a tutor, the more comfortable he becomes doing it.  I think anyone who asks for tutor assistance with reading expects to read out loud for the tutor.  I would never ask any student to read in a group situation unless the text had been practiced and I had been given prior consent.  Readers Theater is a great activity for this.  

One of the best, and research-based, strategies to improve fluency is to record the reading of a text that is a page or less.  The reader then listens to the recording and marks any errors.  He then records again trying to correct mistakes and read at a faster rate. The reader repeats these steps until he is reading the text accurately and as fast as he feels he can say the words.  Tape recorder counters or stop watches can be used to time readings.

When working on fluency speed, the student should drop down to a level that has been mastered except for the reading rate, and take baby steps up to the current level.  Any student who has passed the threshold of self-monitoring can use this strategy without assistance after the first instructional session using direct/explicit instruction.  Students who are not monitoring their reading to ensure that it sounds right (grammatically correct,) looks right (matches the print,) and makes sense should read with assistance so they are not practicing mistakes. 

I totally agree that tutors should model fluent reading at every tutoring session.  I train our tutors to end every session with a modeled reading that is interesting and student-goal appropriate. It is the best way to show that reading should sound like natural speaking and is also an enjoyable activity.       

Margie Kinslow

Literacy Alliance of Brevard/

Titusville, FL

 


Interesting discussion by all.  I can't keep up.  Thanks.

I tend to be in favor of building automaticity/fluency in continuous text and decoding/word recognition for students with needs in those areas, as well as, not as a substitute for, other kinds of comprehension instruction and (oral) language development such as vocabulary skills. Yes, things work differently for ELL (and all the subtle varieties of learners that term encompasses - high vs. low L1 skills, transparency and distance of their L1 writing system to English, and so forth), and for learners that may have more specific learning difficulties that may or may not have been identified in their prior educational careers. Still, all things considered, reading with fluency is the more typical underlying performance one sees associated with skilled reading.

So, turning the discussion back to assessment, it can be helpful to have a set of assessment techniques to identify relative strengths and weaknesses and to monitor their growth or change over time.  As mentioned in a prior post, there are a variety of ways of engaging students in this assessment/monitoring process.  Thinking that way reminds us of the notion of feedback - something we also all can use productively when learning in any domain.  The convenient thing about some of the types of component assessments that we administered as part of the NAAL FAN is that the entire battery took about 10-20 minutes - each task was only a couple minutes in length.  If it had been administered by a trained, sensitive teacher, then there would have been a lot of information about the learner's reading behaviors.  However, sensitivities and adaptations need to be made for learner differences - English language skills in particular. 

I do work from the model that says you shouldn't over-test students and the main goal of reading instruction is improved comprehension.  A slow reading, high ability comprehender is still a high ability comprehender. Interestingly, such individuals - when they recognize they are reading relatively slower than others at their ability level - sometimes look to 'speed reading' courses to find out if they can improve their reading rate while maintaining their comprehension.  In many cases, that is possible given appropriate practice and most importantly strategic reading behaviors relative to reading purpose.  In the NAAL FAN, we start by identifying reading ability based on the prose literacy scale, then describe the proportion of students at different levels who have different profiles of underlying skills.  At every level there are some students who defy the pattern - slow readers who are high comprehenders, and low comprehension readers who are relatively fluent.  But those cases are not the majority based on the data we collected.

Finally, writing is a promising and relatively unexplored (in the research literature) instructional practice for building reading and writing proficiency.  Despite the lack of solid research based, I know no one in the research world who would argue against writing as a critical part of instruction.

John Sabatini


I have a wonderful graphic I use that illustrates exactly that. Unfortunately I've used bad writing center practice and didn't cite it. It shows that skilled reading requires increasing automaticity in grammar/syntax/decoding and "less" automaticity, i.e. a more conscious reflective approach to meaning: vocabulary/interpretation. Let's see if it will paste.... No. It's in a .ppt and I can't send an attachment on list. It's got the two branches that intertwine; one is labeled "more automatic" and the other "less..." Does anyone recognize it and/or can suggest a format I can send it in?

Bonnie Odiorne

Writing Center, Post University


That sounds like the Reading Rope- Hollis Scarborough (2001). Although the citation is about early literacy, Hollis Scarborough has and does work on research with adult literacy learners as well with us.   One can find the graphic in the following:

Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities:

       Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97-110). New York: Guilford Press.

John Sabatini


Hello to all,

I really appreciate the comments about reading fluency and reading out loud provided they actually lead to increased reading comprehension levels or a recognition on the part of the students that they do not comprehend but are led to seek clarification as a result.   I also have students read out loud when it's a facilitated exercise whereby the number of comprehensible words in a word group increases.  It is important that word groups are growing "units" of complete thoughts, unless and until students can recognize fragments that lead them to ask questions about missing information inherent in thought fragments (whether verbal or nonverbal). 

In discussing language with my students, I speak of its two main "branches," namely form (the overarching term I use for grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc.) and meaning.  Language form carries meaning, and meaning carries form. Without form, we cannot create meaning (i.e., have a shared language system), and without meaning we cannot have form (nor would there be any need for it).

As for the comment about reading Turkish out loud and not comprehending (see thread entitled "Reading Aloud"), I, too, can read a number of languages I do not know out loud and make their native speakers believe that I "know" the language to some measure.  The main difference, as you surely know, between SL vs. FL instruction is that SL instruction is largely intended for people who have emigrated to a new country where the SL is the dominant language and they need to learn it to become functional in that new country (granted, in a country like the United States, there are places one can live for many, many years without learning English).  If reading aloud is one competently facilitated venue for increasing reading comprehension, then doing so clearly has its place.

All my students have portable cassette recorders.  Part of what they record includes their own reading of text and also my own reading of it.  When students read out loud well, they may begin to discern the ever so important unwritten punctuation, syntax, tense usage, etc., and how they contribute to conveying the intended meaning of the writer (and speaker, of course).  I believe research has demonstrated that good readers actually make mental images of what they read and interact with text not altogether unlike how they interact in the course of conversation.

My original point stems from what has been frequently demonstrated in SLA studies: we listen to language, often for extended periods of time, before we produce it.  In that regard, SLA may or may not be different from native language acquisition (what a miracle that is!).  Therefore, I tell my students to read text quietly first, and repeatedly if necessary, and to "listen" to the text.  Granted, the text they are assigned to read is already sufficiently comprehensible that they can +/- infer the meaning of at least a good part of unfamiliar vocabulary after repeated readings when they will have formed some overall "picture" in their minds about what the text is or may be about.  I also urge my students not to look up unfamiliar words as soon as they see them, but to give themselves the needed time to become familiar with the text that surrounds those words.

So...I would say there is a huge difference between reading out loud for the sake of reading out loud (which may occur more often than desirable), and reading out loud as a well-conceived strategy for developing reading comprehension.

Michael Gyori


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Decoding and Word Recognition

Hi,

The discussion during this week has focused mostly on reading fluency.  I'm also interested in folks thoughts about the decoding/word recognition skills of low level readers.  Specifically, do you think that such skills can be improved to high, automatized skill levels such as one sees in an average college student - automatized, fluent, ease?  Or is it too late? Has anyone met success?  Does anyone try?  Do you think reading fluency training is sufficient to improve a poor, slow decoder and word recognizer?  Will vocabulary instruction be sufficient?  Do you think there is a useful distinction to be made between decoding (sounding out novel words) and word recognition (quickly recognizing words one has seen before).

A lot of questions, but all just one theme. 

If that theme seems tired to you, a focus on comprehension skills - are you completely satisfied with the measures you have to help you understand how well students comprehend?  And what is your definition/concept of reading comprehension?

Thanks,

John Sabatini


I cannot say enough good things about taking people of average intelligence who have not yet mastered true independent reading at an adult level and putting them into a solid multi-sensory program such as the Lindamood-Bell program. We have had such amazing results over the last decade with those students who walk in reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level but whose cognitive abilities indicate normal or above-average intelligence. The only way, in my experience, to move such students on the path to full literacy along is to take them back to the basic phonemic underpinnings of English and help establish these tracking patterns in their minds. LMB is neither easy to learn to teach properly nor is it a fast program--students must be committed to attending class regularly for 12 weeks to master the various basic elements, but boy is it worth it when they start to read on levels they never before conceived themselves capable of.

Stephanie Moran


John raises a series of questions about the low literacy learners, asking "do you think that such skills can be improved to high, automatized skill levels such as one sees in an average college student - automatized, fluent, ease?" That's a lofty goal, but the answer really is, "it depends". It depends on a variety of things. Is the low literacy learner there because of English language learning issues? Then yes, certainly, because we have to remove the barrier of the English learning and the learner catches up to the proficiency in L1. In the ABE world, we have another set of issues. In the world of Literacy Volunteers, we have seen amazing breakthroughs where we have seen students realize that there was a system of decoding they never understood and slowly apply the rules to systematically learn to read. It's a slow process to catch up.

Four years ago we discussed the Plateau Effect on the ALE Wiki (http://wiki.literacytent.org/index.php/AlePlateau) posing lots of hypotheses. Since then, I've seen new research including something in the ARCs study that mentions that "among the learners in the ARCS RR 100% of those who tested below fifth grade level (21% of our sample) did not know all the consonant sounds, the basic building elements of word analysis and word recognition." (http://lincs.ed.gov/readingprofiles/MC_Print_Skills.htm) I know that ABE students are like Swiss Cheese and believe that taking more of a diagnostic/prescriptive approach lets us figure out where the holes are in their learning to help plug them.

I don't think it's a matter of classroom instruction in vocabulary lessons, or comprehension skills, or going through a workbook, though that certainly will help in some ways. In lots of ways that's like throwing spaghetti on the wall and hoping some of it will stick. For our lowest level learners, we need to provide targeted, differentiated instruction, specific to their skill gaps. Sometimes we will have multiple students with the same issues and we can group them. Sometimes it will be assisted by software. It's not an easy process, but it's an effective one. The trick is to find the appropriate diagnostics, then correct remediation material.

Will we get every learner up to college level fluency? Not tomorrow. In our world, the goal is progress, not perfection.

Jean Marrapodi, PhD, CPLP


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DIBELS and Tests for Measuring Low Level/Sub Skills

I'm going out on a limb here.

Lots of folks in the K-5 world use DIBELS (https://dibels.uoregon.edu/ ) for reading assessment in the primary grades. It is fairly granular. Is there any history or applicability for use with adult low literacy learners? It's fairly intensive to learn to administer, but it does measure a lot of the sub-skills we are looking at with alphabetics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. In the teacher discussions on teachers.net one of their complaints was the timing issues for young children, which I can see could create undue stress for some tasks. Often elementary materials are problematic for adults, but this one comes well researched.

I'm just wondering about it, so I thought I'd toss it into the mix this week to see what you all thought.

Jean Marrapodi, PhD, CPLP


I may be wrong but I don't think it has been scaled for adults. Below is from their webpage:

The DIBELS were developed as criterion-based measures; but national norms have been developed. DIBELS are criterion-referenced because each measure has an empirically established goal (or benchmark) that changes across time to ensure students' skills are developing in a manner predictive of continued progress. The goals/benchmarks were developed following a large group of students in a longitudinal manner to see where students who were "readers" in later grades were performing on these critical early literacy skills when they were in Kindergarten and First grade so that we can make predictions about which students are progressing adequately and which students may need additional instructional support. This approach is in contrast with normative measures which simply demonstrate where a student is performing in relation to the normative sample, regardless of whether that performance is predictive of future success.

For your convenience, district-level norms or percentiles are generated at each benchmark data collection period so schools/districts can make decisions about student performance in relation to the local context of students who have received, generally, the same type of instructional experiences. National norms, generated with all the students in the DIBELS Data System as of 2002, are also posted within the Technical Reports section of the website in Technical Report #9.

You can see how the benchmark goals are used by going to our Technical Reports page and downloading the following report:

Good, R. H., Simmons, D. S., Kame'enui, E. J., Kaminski, R. A., & Wallin, J. (2002). Summary of decision rules for intensive, strategic, and benchmark instructional recommendations in kindergarten through third grade (Technical Report No. 11). Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.

Susan Landrum

Certified Barton Tutor

Central Georgia Technical College


Hi,

I'd also recommend the following references for thinking about how to assess and think about fluency measures with adult learners.  The first two are actually from the 4th grade special studies of Oral reading conducting by the NAEP.  The reason to look at them is to see how the authors constructed the fluency/prosody/expressiveness subscale and to understand a bit about the distinctions between rate (words per minute), accuracy (percentage correct), and words correct per minute.  As the Wayman report points out, 4th grade is a key developmental year for the strength of the relationship between oral reading and comprehension in children. The national sampling is sound. The Wayman article introduces all the variations of oral reading tasks and what aspects might matter in choosing one.  One can also read nearly anything by Tim Shanahan.

DIBELS has been an exemplar of a Curriculum-based Measures (CBM) approach.  The goal of that research had been to use fluency-type measures as a proxy for predicting reading comprehension.  Interestingly, the focus has been less on the subgoal/subskill of improving children's reading fluency.  The DIBELS technical reports still provide some useful benchmarks for thinking about the development of reading rate and fluency, but as the previous post notes, be cautious about applying any rules as is with adults. They do continue to improve the technical aspects.

Of course, we continue to recommend you look at the NCES Basic Skills report that was just published, as we gave a national sample of  some 19000 adults two passages -- one at about 2nd-6th grade level another at 7th-8th grade level.  While we cannot at present create a normative scale for those particular passages, as we develop further reports, the results can be a guide to expectations for adult readers.  Our research team here is also conducting research on adult reading fluency, though we don't have particular assessments to recommend at this time. Hopefully, we'll have more helpful reports out there for you soon.

I think one of the main purposes in reading fluency assessments with adults is to monitor the improvement of accuracy, rate, and fluency/prosody/expressiveness (I think referred to here as chunking for syntax, grammar) over time with texts of increasing challenge.  So, it is the repeating of the activity over time and the recording of rates and accuracy and ease to see if there is improvement.   I don't trust readability formulas for equating texts - don't expect any two texts with the same readability index to be of equal difficulty in terms of reading rate for any adult.  However, adults and most readers are roughly consistent in their reading rates across a relatively wide variety of texts - until they get so difficult that the individual is struggling with every word.  I actually prefer picking easy texts relative to the adult's word reading ability when monitoring continuous text reading fluency.  There are separate measures one can use for word recognition and decoding. 

Finally, McShane's report applies this to adults.

John Sabatini

  

Daane, M. C., Campbell, J. R., Grigg, W. S., Goodman, M. J., & Oranje, A. (2005). Fourth-grade students reading aloud: NAEP 2002 special study of oral reading (No. NCES 2006-469). Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Education, Institution of Education Sciences, National Center for Educational Statistics.

Pinnell, G. S., Pikulski, J. J., Wikxson, K. K., Campbell, J. R., Gough, P. B., & Beatty, A. S. (1995). Listening to children read aloud: Data from NAEP's Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at grade 4 (No. NAEP-23-FR-04; NCES-95-726). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Samuels, S. J. (2006). Toward a model of reading fluency. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about fluency instruction (pp. 24-46). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Wayman, M. M., Wallace, T., Wiley, H. I., Ticha, R., & Espin, C. A. (2007). Literature synthesis on curriculum-based measurement in reading. The Journal of Special Education, 41(2), 85-120.

McShane, S. (2005). Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults:

First Steps for Teachers. Washington, DC: National Center for Family Literacy, National Institute for Literacy.


A year or so ago, I decided to see if DIBELS could be adapted to adult ed settings.  I contacted the researchers who designed it at the University of Oregon (https://dibels.uoregon.edu/) to see what they thought.  They seemed to think that the measures would be appropriate, and I agree with John's assessment that there could be some uses.

Here's the rub, though.  The way that CMBs like DIBELS work is that they rely on input from large number of users to generate norms that teachers can use to assess individual students.  This works well because DIBELS is gathering scores from a wide range of users from all over the country.  The number and diversity of users provides a natural sampling that provides a pretty accurate and constantly updated norming process.  DIBELS is, therefore, normed to the K-12 population pretty well.

There isn't a category for entering adult learning scores into DIBELS, and that needs to be done before it can be appropriately normed.  And rather than grade-level norms, someone would have to generate norms that are closer aligned to the norms that we use in adult ed.  My brief discussion with the DIBELS folks suggest that they aren't averse to doing this -- but that people haven't approached them with the request.  I'm guessing that if enough people start contacting them, they might respond.  

Bob Hughes, Ed.D.

Associate Professor of Adult Education

Seattle University

rhughes@seattleu.edu


Bob's points are one reason why we can't use DIBELS in CO as it stands--our tests must be standardized and normed (CASAS, TABE, and BEST are acceptable).

Stephanie Moran


What I like about DIBELS and other CBMs is the ability to drill into students' progress with skill subsets in a way that standardized measures don't provide.  CASAS, et al., are good at giving the big picture of where a student is in relation to other students 9as any standardized measure should).  But CBMs allow you to look at the "why" of that and to see where you can provide specific instruction for each student.  CBMs provide a great complement to standardized scores and are very useful for instruction.


Now if we could just get someone to create a CBM for adult literacy....

 

Bob Hughes, Ed. D.

Associate Professor of Adult Education

Seattle University


Thanks Bob!

I contacted DIBELS as well and they said they had no studies regarding adults. Seeing that there would be no place to enter data for adult scores makes a big difference in the decision whether this would be usable at all for my population. I'm trying to find something that can assist the teachers assess and track this lowest level population at a granular level without reinventing the wheel.  DIBELS has the granularity of the skills I'm looking for.

So much of our adult literacy material is paper and pencil and labor intensive. I have the Bader, which is complex and not user friendly. I have a slew of individual diagnostics for word recognition, vocabulary meaning, phonemic analysis, etc. I'm looking for simple.

I wonder if I could reopen that discussion with DIBELS, and if it would be worth it.

I've also contacted CAL about a project they did with bilingual Spanish/English K-2 children learning to read. We have a slew of new Spanish speaking learners who arrived with minimal education in L1, so in many ways they are paralleling these children. Of course in many ways they don't, but what's out there for them? Our lowest literacy folks have such sparsely of diagnostics we need to borrow across the realms of K-12.

Jean Marrapodi, PhD, CPLP


Above the Kindergarten level, DIEBELS is speed reading.  Fluency encompasses so much more than the speed of reading.


In DIEBELS, students read a passage as fast as they can.  The mistakes are subtracted from the number of words read for the final score.  No reference is made on the reports as to whether the reader read with intonation, rhythm, appropriate punctuation, blending words within phrases, etc.  There is no assessment of comprehension.  The students learn very quickly to not try to sound out words that they don't know.  They misread or skip them and read on to get the highest score they can.


Because of our clientele, we should be very careful to not encourage speed reading.  I feel that speed reading is very harmful to adult learners who often have processing deficits.  It does not allow our learners to activate prior knowledge as they read, to visualize, to connect to the text, or to process the information in analyzing, evaluating, etc.


I feel that developing fluency will reflect in better reading comprehension and enjoyment.  I believe that having the speed at which a learner reads exclusively measured as a single unit assessment, could wrongfully send the message of speed having too much merit in the reading process to the learners.


Margie Kinslow

Brevard Adult Literacy Volunteers

Titusville, FL


Margie-

Eureka. This is exactly the kind of feedback I'm looking for. You must have used DIBELS before. In my digging for something to assess the learners at the lowest level at a diagnostic level I started poking in the K-3 world to see if there was anything granular enough that appeared teacher friendly so they didn't have to do a lot of determination and DIBELS appeared to be set up that way. Never having used it, it's hard to assess potential, hence tossing out the thought to the list for insights.

Mindplay software is releasing RAPS 360 later this year, which has potential. Many of the software programs have diagnostic/prescriptive capabilities, but a high pricetag. If we're going to do diagnostic/prescriptive teaching to remediate gaps, we need solid instruments for our adults. We have some, but the limitation of our inexperienced teachers require lots of training. I was encouraged to read John's earlier post that there is work being done.

Thanks for voicing your thoughts. I'm hoping there may be others out there.

Jean Marrapodi


I recommend you also keep after us at ETS.  Our team has developed a set of component/diagnostic measures for use with adult literacy learners and have piloted them with ABE adults in our intervention studies and also with adolescent struggling readers.  We also do not have national norms for you yet, but we have the measures (computerized), so we are probably getting close.  A national norming sample is an expensive, somewhat complicated thing to do - probably most of the expense of any published test is getting the norming sample and analyzing it. 


Part of our delay is the odd circumstance of adult basic education.  As the NAAL FAN report shows, most of the adults in the country are probably off the top of the chart for basic skills - or at least high enough that one is not likely to provide additional basic skills testing.  So the normative sample we need is relative to a special population - ABE students and ELL students.  Otherwise, all we'll learn is that all of the ABE students are in the bottom 25th percentile in the country.  The tests need to be designed to discriminate well among that bottom 25th percentile.  So, we would most likely need to sample from literacy programs across the country - and making them take more tests!  Then, it would still not be sound to generalize to non-program adults, but that might not be too large a problem.  Perhaps we can generate some momentum among providers for a study of that kind.

John Sabatini


Given John's reading on this, are we sure we need an additional AE test? That is, would there be much value added in instructional terms in being more fine-grained than the additional tests – particularly because AE teachers are fairly autonomous and over-worked as it is?

Forrest Chisman


It may be a matter of how basic skills and or populations are defined, but the NAAL FAN report suggesting that "most of the adults in the country are probably off the chart for basic skills" doesn't jive with my experience.

It would seem to me that the bottom 50% would be an appropriate norming sample.

The passing scores on the GED are at the 40th percentile of high school graduates.  Add to this reality the number of adults that earned a high school diploma with the minimum level of basic skills, and the fact that both of these groups fall far short of the level of literacy that we hope for in our adult population, it would seem that the bottom 50% would still be quite appropriate.

Jim Schneider


John,

I encourage you folks at ETS to consider using the approach that a lot of us in the universities (including DIBELS) are using these days to norm our work.  The pilot and norming phases of the development can be accomplished by giving users no cost/low cost access to the instrument through secure online access.  As the data bank of users build, you can track the users to see what kinds of samples you're generating until the population approaches a representative sampling.  It's a different way to approach sampling, but emerging technologies make it possible. 

Bob Hughes, Ed.D.

Associate Professor of Adult Education

Seattle University


Forrest--

Yes, you are overworked, but imagine having something that meets the mark….and being able to know what the mark is for each learner. That might eliminate wasted efforts. We can dream, right?

Jean Marrapodi


Jean,

Actually I'm not a teacher and never have been. I'm a policy guy. What I DO wonder is what the value added of fine grained assessments is for a teaching force that is overwhelmingly part-time, semi-skilled, unsupervised, paid only for contact hours, and meets with students who attend on an intermittent basis 3-6 hours per week. Most of them are lucky if they know who their learners ARE on any given day. You'd certainly have to invest in a lot of staff training if they were going to use fine grained assessments, and if you didn't they would probably misuse the tools. But wouldn't the same investment in staff training be better used for other purposes? More than that, I'm always concerned that more precision in almost anything doesn't necessarily create better results. Sometime "close enough" works best. NAAL certainly was precise, but as far as I can tell it has had little or no impact on the field, and the more one learns about it, the less one knows. It's sort of like the complex "risk management" programs developed by financial institutions to evaluate derivatives. They sure were precise, but they created a false sense of certainty that brought down the American economy. I'm not a Luddite, but I do believe in calibrating our means with our aims. Just because we CAN do it, doesn't mean it's worth doing – except possibly for purposes of research to find out what we SHOULD be doing.

Forrest Chisman

Vice President

Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy    


Thank you Forrest for your reality check and reminder of the actual resource issues that adult ed programs face


Yes it would be great if there was a magic assessment -- yet for many of ABE students -- TABE, itself, can be illuminating -- we have found in a small program that students are surprised to take an assessment, have it scored and returned -- with a diagnostic of strengths and weaknesses -- and be able to sit down with a teacher and set goals -- on the same day.  The same day feedback and discussion -- is huge -- no matter what the assessment is. 


That is a far cry from the high stakes testing in the public schools -- which have both baffled and demoralized them - where the results don't come back until months after the test was taken -- and the results rarely come to the student with strategies for improvement -- I think that increased development effort on making it easier and faster for teachers / literacy  to apply existing assessments - is part of the improvement puzzle.


Gail Bundy

Board Member

Native American Multi-Cultural Education School

Denver, CO


Gail,

I think you raise the key point here when you said

"It is scored and returned-- with a diagnostic of strengths and weaknesses -- and be able to sit down with a teacher and set goals -- on the same day.  The same day feedback and discussion -- is huge -- no matter what the assessment is. "

The key is the diagnostic element of using the test for more than a number for placement. Too often the TABE and the CASAS become a number that is used to pinpoint the NRS level and a score for comparison at the next testing period. When that happens, the tests have little value. Adult students and their teacher/tutors have a joint responsibility in the learning process, and their dual enlightenment of specific strengths and weaknesses is key to helping them over the next hurdle.

Jean Marrapodi


We have used CASAS assessments for the past 13 years. Although one can quibble about the particulars of ANY assessment and I have plenty to quibble about, providing insightful information for instructors isn't one of them. Between the competency reports and content standard reports the CASAS assessments provide a wealth of information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of our learners.


Dr. Chisman's "wonder" couldn't be more spot on. The ABE accountability system (NRS) is established "as if" the ABE system was funded and operated in a fully professional manner as the K-12 system. IF it were such, the assessments could and would be used as they are intended. So long as the ABE system continues to be marginalized at the national, state, and institutional levels there is little need to develop an even more elaborate charade than the one we are currently operating under.

Jim Schneider


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Transitions

Hello everyone, I hope this email finds you well.

Today begins our discussion on

Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Supplemental Studies

I am pleased to welcome Dr. Sheida White and Dr. John Sabatini as guests for this 4-day discussion.  Please visit the URL below for the full announcement and information on accessing the report.

http://lincs.ed.gov/lincs/discussions/assessment/09readingskills.html

I hope you have had the opportunity to read through the Executive Summary of the report.  Please send your questions and comments about the report to the discussion list now. 

I will start us off with a question for subscribers:  What does the report tell you about the need for adult literacy services today, and how might this affect your program practice?

Thanks!

  

Marie Cora

Assessment Discussion List Moderator


In response to Marie's question, the report shows that there is a continuing need for adult literacy, especially at the lowest levels. With the current focus on transitions in adult education, there is a concern that students at these lowest levels will be neglected.

The report also highlights the importance of reading fluency. Adult literacy teachers often neglect fluency, saying their students would "rather die than read out loud". How can we help students improve their reading fluency in a non-threatening way?

Dianna Baycich


Dianna - I can understand your concern that students at the lowest level will be neglected with the focus on transitions but as someone who manages a program that offers classes from Basic Literacy through transitions, I believe that the focus on transitions highlights the need to provide students at the lowest level the strongest foundation in reading skills in order to successfully succeed in transitioning to higher education or job training.   We know that one barrier our adult students are facing in their quest for better jobs and education is their weakness in reading skills and transitions classes have arisen to address this deficit. 

What is needed is to focus more on strengthening reading skills in the lower level which through time will eliminate the need for transitions classes.

Toni Borge

Director Adult Education & Transitions Program

Bunker Hill Community College

Boston, MA


Hi Toni,

Do you have class minimums that you must meet within the college setting? I’ve been in ABE in the college system in Washington for 10 years now, and I’ve never seen enough numbers of low-level native English speakers come to colleges at the same time to form a viable class.

One year, because we were so intent on not turning away Level 1 and 2 ABE readers, we experimented with using Corrective Reading (an SRA product) in a blended ABE/ESL class – kind of a supplement. It was wildly popular, and seemed pretty effective for everyone.

Debbie McLaughlin

Director of Basic & Transitional Studies

Seattle Central Community College


My ABE program is a partnership and the lower two ESOL levels are held at the CBO partners and then move to the college for the next 2 ESOL levels.  We have a minimum of 15 in the first 2 levels and 20 in the next two.  Now we are looking at what to do with our ABE class that are all non native speakers.

Toni Borge


I'm right with Toni on this. For our Next Steps Committee, the transition from GED through the college placement test to credit-bearing college courses is a major focus, but we have also identified several other leaks in the transitions pipeline, specifically the low percentage of Intermediate Readers who ever get to the all-important Advanced level and the higher-level ESOL students having difficulty transitioning to ABE. I think Transitions is the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Tom Mechem

GED State Chief Examiner

Commonwealth of Massachusetts

 


Tom and Toni,

I'm happy to know that the fears about basic skills being neglected because of transitions are unfounded. I will be certain to share your experiences with others.

Dianna Baycich  


Hello,

My name is Lorene James and I direct the adult education program for the Kansas City School District. I am a 40 year veteran to the field and I am very pleased with some of the developments in the adult education field. It is so unfortunate that our programs do not receive adequate funds to do a more thorough job with educating our adults. When I say thorough (because I do not want to take anything away from our awesome instructors who turn out to be miracle workers) I mean that we do not have funds to set up programs that meets the needs of adults from beginning reading through job placement/post secondary.

Ideally our programs should be equipped with a full time counselor (in/or directly available to) the Adult Education classroom) so that early on in the enrollment process students can receive individual attention designed to chart their course from beginning to end or goal achievement.  This will help us address those students with beginning to intermediate reading skills in a manner that is uplifting because they can be guided through the steps that are necessary to gain academic gains. For instance, we have developed several unique models over the past several years. For those who are intermediate readers, we are providing a separate class that brings them together as a group in strong interactive learning activities. Since doing this we have experienced greater academic gains and improved attendance. There is a still lot of work to be done in this area but I am encouraged to continue planning in this manner.

I have also developed a transitional model called “Parent Power Institute” in which the major emphasis has been to prepare adult students to be successful in entering college functioning at the college level. All of the preparation has to be done at the adult education level. However we partnered with the area community college, universities trade schools to determine specific skills our students must master to be successful. We designed a curriculum based on our findings to include reading/language, mathematics and introduction to computers. I felt if our students had strong skills in these areas they would not have a problem coping with other skills. We have experienced great successes with this program and continue to develop the transition component of “Parents to College”.  If you are wondering why we targeted parents, we felt that parents have such a great impact on the education or lack of education of their children, this would be a great effort to improve the education and economic base of parents living in the school district. However, the program can be used in any adult program.

Another unique thing about the PPI program is that one of the area universities actually supported the curriculum content so much that they awarded college credit to students completing the entire program.

I hope I have been helpful in this discussion.

Lorene James


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