Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reading fluency and reading LD/dyslexia: Guest post by John DeMann

The following is a guest blog post (previously called virtual scholars at this blog)  by John J. DeMann, NCSP, School Psychologist, North Allegheny School District John took advantage of my standing offer to readers of my blogs to receive a PDF copy of any article I mention in a research brief (or byte ) or any article that may be in a recent "IQs Corner Recent Literature of Interest" post.  I know that many practitioners do not have access to journals......so if a person volunteers to make a brief written post, I'm willing to send them a PDF copy of the article in exchange for the post.

This feature benefits all readers as the post is "added value and commentary" which then allows me to provide a link to the full article (via the "fair use doctrine"---esp. for educational purposes) for all to read.  So it is a win-win and "help your colleagues" type of exchange program.

John's post is very well written and provides a nice overview of the article along with some stimulating ideas and thoughts.  Thanks John.  His post is reproduced below "as is" (save any minor copy edits and or the adding or URL links by the blogmaster).  If you are considering a guest post, don't think your post has to be as long as John's.  Individual differences in guest posting is valued and recognized.

Recently, increased interest in reading fluency has emerged in both the professional literature and in applied practice. Oral reading fluency is typically the outcome variable by which response to intervention (RTI) models are evaluated, and is usually measured by a child's rate and accuracy (words correct/minute) when reading connected text. With the ubiquity of interventions targeting core phonological awareness deficits, attention has shifted to other cognitive variables that influence reading development beyond single-word reading and decoding difficulties. Although traditional assessment and definitions of dyslexia focus on single-word reading and decoding deficits, difficulty with reading fluency has been increasingly recognized as an important characteristic of dyslexics. For example, the recent reauthorization of the Individuals with Disability Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) now recognizes reading fluency as one of the eight areas of specific learning disability. More recent conceptualizations of the term dyslexia also include references to fluency as an area of difficulty experiences by individuals with dyslexia. Further, the authors of the forthcoming revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) are proposing a revised definition of dyslexia that includes difficulties in accuracy or fluency. This increased attention to fluency as an important aspect of reading may be the result of fluency being recognized as an important contributor to the overall goal of reading - comprehension. Reading fluency is essential for a child's academic success, as dysfluent reading is likely to significantly interfere with reading comprehension and thereby hamper the learning of content area knowledge. Although intervention research has established reading fluency's importance in developing overall reading skills, more work is needed to explore dyslexia characterized primarily by a lack of fluency and gain consensus regarding disability subtypes and cognitive components of fluency.

Meisinger et al.'s articleReading Fluency: implications for the assessment of children with reading disabilities (Annals of Dyslexia, 2010, 60, 1-17) establishes an argument for the importance of fluency as an overall indicator of reading ability, and stresses the importance of including standardized measures of fluency when conducting comprehensive assessments. In the current age of formative assessment and response-to-treatment models dominating the school psychology landscape, these authors argue that reliable and valid measures of fluency may be an overlooked aspect of assessment given the shortcomings of many assessment instruments. They argue that many common assessment instruments that measure reading skills include measures of word reading, decoding, and comprehension, but seldom include measures of reading fluency. Additionally, they point-out the inconsistency of how reading fluency is defined by various tests. For example, the Reading Fluency subtest from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement - Third Edition (WJ-III ACH) measures an individual's ability to quickly read simple statements and decide whether they are accurate (i.e. includes comprehension), whereas other measures characterize fluency as an individual's ability quickly and accurately read larger blocks of text (e.g. GORT-4). Regardless of how fluency is measured, Meisinger et al. caution that the omission of fluency in the assessment of an individual's reading skills may have important implications for diagnostic decision making. They reference recent research that suggests word reading and reading fluency are distinct skills that each make unique contributions to an individuals reading comprehension. Therefore, evaluations that do not include measures of reading fluency may lead to erroneous or misleading conclusions regarding an individual's reading abilities.

As a result of this significant problem, Meisinger et al. chose to examine the diagnostic utility of reading fluency to identify children with reading disabilities by (a) determining whether there are children who have typically developing word identification and decoding skills but show specific deficits in reading fluency; (b) examine which cognitive features differentiate children with specific reading fluency deficits from struggling and normal readers, and (c) investigating whether the omission of reading fluency in the assessment of children would results in the under-identification of children with reading disabilities. The results of their study suggest:

* reading fluency measures are more sensitive in detecting reading problems than word reading measures
* it is essential to evaluate reading fluency when assessing children referred for reading difficulties; failure to do so may result in the under-identification of children with reading disabilities
* results support the identification of a subgroup of children who exhibit specific deficits in reading fluency without concordant deficits in single word reading in isolation or in decoding unknown words ("double-deficit" reading disability subtypes
* RAN is an underlying process that plays an important role in determining the rate at which children read connected text
* compared to children with normal reading skills, children with deficits in reading fluency were characterized by deficits in rapid naming speed but not in phonological processing

These results, as the authors suggest, have important implications for practitioners, suggesting that psycho-educational assessment that does not include measures of reading fluency is at risk of under-identifying children who would otherwise be classified as reading-disabled. These results also support the need for increased focus on intervention that leads to improved reading skills beyond the single-word level.

In review of this article, a few criticisms/caveats to consider: the authors indicate that a comprehensive, standardized test that measures word reading, decoding, fluency, and comprehension does not exist, making a cross-battery approach necessary to measure all variables in this study. Therefore, as the authors suggest, differences in test characteristics could account for the observed differences in performance on these measures. Although the WJ-III measures all aspects of reading used in their study, they chose to use a measure of fluency that aligns with more current definitions (e.g. National Reading Panel). It might be interesting to see how these tests choose to conceptualize fluency in future test revisions. The new WIAT-III (which wasn't released until after this study was submitted for review) defines fluency much like the GORT-4, and benefits from being a comprehensive, co-normed battery. A replication of this study using the WIAT-III norming sample could mitigate the sampling and testing error differences reported in this study, and determine whether these results generalize to a larger normative sample - the sample used in this study was selected from a largely white, clinic-referred sample of children previously diagnosed with a reading disability or suspected of having reading problems. Lastly, the authors suggest that their results should be replicated and expanded upon by exploring other potentially important variables that may contribute to reading fluency performance. For example, working memory is offered as another potentially important cognitive variable for reading fluency that could be included in this model to predict variance in reading fluency performance. Despite the evidence that demonstrates RAN is an underlying process that plays an important role in identifying reading difficulties, our understanding of why children with reading problems display these deficits is still limited. From a CHC perspective, RAN tasks share both cognitive speediness (Gs) and naming/retrieval (Glr) performance aspects; another question that remains as a result of this study is whether RAN deficits represent a more general slow speed of processing (Gs), or whether RAN deficits are related to slowness specific to letters/numbers that hampers the development of fluent reading.

It is apparent that reading fluency represents a largely under-studied area of reading research that may be a key area of assessment for children who experience reading problems. Most importantly, assessment practices that include standardized fluency measures may help differentiate intervention for students who experience difficulty developing fluency beyond word-identification skills.

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1 comment:

Luqman Michel said...

Why is it that dyslexic children do not have a reading problem with two of the languages I teach them - namely Malay and romanised Mandarin? They can read in these two languages as fluently as anyone can.

However, these same dyslexic students find it difficult to read in English.

This is a question that people who speak, read and write only in the English language should ponder upon.

The dyslexics problem with the English language is simply because of the inconsistency of the English orthography.

None of my dyslexic students have a problem in spelling any word in Malay or in romanised Mandarin. This is simply because both these languages are orthographically consistent.

Ask anyone who has not heard the following English words to spell and I'll bet not a single one will be able to spell them: island, quay, know, bouquet, dyslexia and hundreds of other words.

Now ask any Malaysian dyslexic student to spell the word dyslexia- even if they have not heard it- in Malay and I assure you that he will spell it correctly - disleksia.

Thank you and kind regards,
Luqman Michel