We recently assessed a student, “Sally,” about to enter seventh grade. We wanted to know her proficiency with oral reading fluency. Fluency is a student’s ability to read with adequate rate, accuracy, and with prosody. It is a gatekeeper to reading for meaning. If a student is an accurate decoder but spends a great deal of time pulling the printed word off of the page (decoding), he won’t have enough mental capacity left to make meaning of what he has decoded. And, obviously, if a student reads quickly, but not accurately, he, likewise, will not comprehend what he reads.
Sally’s mother was thrilled because Sally had been tutored during the summer through a local school district. Mom was told that the student was reading fluently at the seventh grade level. When asked what took place during the thirteen tutoring sessions, I was told that the tutor, a public school reading teacher, taught Sally using Read Naturally Live as the primary intervention.
Using Read Naturally Live, the teacher scores the number of words read correctly for a given reading passage. If a student does not reach the goal on the first reading, the student then practices reading the passage while listening to a recording of the passage. No more than three practice readings with the recording of a given passage should be needed to obtain a preset words correct per minute (WCPM) goal (usually the 50th percentile of a given grade level). Unfortunately for Sally, the teacher had Sally reading from seventh grade passages, and she had to practice many passages over 20 times to reach her goal; Sally even had to practice one passage 31 times before she reached her goal. Sally wasn’t “reading” the passages; she was memorizing them. This is not good reading instruction. In fact, an argument could be made that not only was the tutoring time not well spent, the tutoring sessions could have created more harm than they did good as these practice sessions could have further eroded Sally’s confidence that she could learn to read.
We assessed Sally using the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT) after her summer tutoring sessions had concluded. She scored at the fifth percentile for reading rate, reading accuracy, and reading fluency. Her grade equivalents for each of the measures was 2.2, yet just a few days before Sally’s mother was told by the tutor that Sally was reading fluently at the seventh grade level. How could this be? Again, Sally reached her fluency goals due to many repeated reading practice sessions. She wasn’t reading; she was memorizing the passages given to her by her summer tutor.
Given Sally’s reading fluency was at the 5th percentile for her age as measured on the Gray Oral Reading Test, she clearly was placed at an inappropriate grade level for her Read Naturally Live tutoring work during the summer. Sally’s experience this summer is a clear example of why we have a literacy issue in this country. We have teachers who have not been provided with the proper professional development to teach reading. They don’t understand what is important in reading instruction, and if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you possibly teach students how to read?
John Alexander, Head of School