Little research has been conducted in Brazil on measures to assess reading fluency (Gentilini et al, 2020; Andrade, Celeste, & Alves, 2019; Moutinho, 2016; Pacheco & Santos, 2017; Peres & Mousinho, 2017), and a search for research on reading fluency in official documents of the Brazilian Ministry of Education (Martins, 2018) also reveals that such measures are not a type of assessment that is widely known or applied by teachers within the classroom. Nonetheless, research has continually indicated the importance of developing oral reading fluency (ORF; reading with appropriate rate, accuracy, and prosody) as a vital and necessary skill for the overall development of proficient reading (Machado, Santos, & Cruz, 2019; Rasinski & Young, 2017).
In addition to the lack of Brazilian research widely exploring this theme, the low performance data of Brazilian students in reading indicates that these students also face difficulties in learning this highly complex activity, including the many who do not become proficient, effective readers. It is noted that this is a recurring problem that affects students and, consequently, concerns educators. As is clear from the evaluations conducted throughout the national territory (large-scale evaluations), the problem has continued throughout the years and affects even the regions with the best educational indexes or socioeconomic status.
Measures assessment of reading oral fluency
The method widely publicized as curriculum-based measurement (CBM) is a curriculum-based progress-monitoring method for measuring growth in specific areas of basic knowledge and skills and assessing the effects of instructional programs (response to intervention). Curriculum-based assessment, as a longstanding assessment practice asserting that learning assessments should be based on what has been taught, has become popular in the field of special education. Thus, the CBM method is described as curriculum-based, as it is used within the context of the school curriculum (Deno, 1985).
The CBM method proposes simple measures for the assessment of academic competence that can be applied quickly by teachers. These measures help provide an overview of each student’s academic development; furthermore, when these simple measures are applied systematically over time, they can be used to track a student’s potential difficulties (Fuchs, 2017).
For example, to identify struggling readers, reference standards for ORF are used, which, based on the CBM assessment method initially proposed by Deno (1985), enable reading analysis in just 1 min (e.g., the number of words read correctly per minute–WCPM). The most widely used assessment of ORF, which focuses on two of the three components of fluency (rate and accuracy), simply requires the student to read a grade-appropriate passage, which they have not seen previously, for 1 min. At the end of 1 min, errors are subtracted from the total words read, and then the WCPM score is calculated (Hasbrouck & Tindal, 2006).
Thus, the method was developed to create procedures for measuring progressive development in a simple, reliable, and valid way. These procedures enable teachers to frequently and repeatedly measure students’ progress in basic reading, spelling, writing, and expression skills (Rasinski, 2004).
Regarding reading fluency assessment, it is recommended that the scoring of the number of words read correctly per minute (WCPM) and the number of words read incorrectly per minute (WIPM) be performed with three passages of the same difficulty level to then calculate the mean score. Thus, the WCPM measure can serve to screen for academically at-risk students, assign placement in remedial and special education programs, monitor student progress, improve teaching programs, and predict performance in high-risk assessments (Hasbrouck & Tindal, 2006; Rasinski, 2004).
A series of discussions began in the last decade in Brazil on the question of the “wait to fail to act” model, which highlighted the importance of the early identification of learning difficulties. There are also discussions about the broadening of knowledge about the advantages of early identification and scientific evidence-based assessment and screening methods (Almeida, Piza, Toledo, Cardoso, & Miranda, 2016; Batista & Pestun, 2019; Brito, Seabra, & Macedo, 2018; Justi & Cunha, 2016; Mayeda, Navatta, & Miotto, 2018; Nicolau & Navas, 2015; Palles da Silva & Guaresi, 2019; Rodrigues & Ciasca, 2016; Silva & Capellini, 2017; Silva & Capellini, 2019a; Silva & Crenitte, 2016).
According to Elliott, Huai and Roach (2007), several factors contribute to the prevalence of the “wait to fail to act” model, such as the fact that educators understand that there is a certain heterogeneity of development and learning among students and seek to allow appropriate time for this development. By doing so, they are also allowing students a fair chance of progressing without early determination of the problem. Another factor for the prevalence of this action model is the fact that few large-scale screening instruments are time efficient and technically simple for teachers to apply.
In the Brazilian literature, early screening instruments are recent and focus primarily on metalinguistic skills, such as the “Early Identification and Reading Problems Protocol” (Capellini, César, & Germano, 2017), the “Evaluation of Cognitive-Language Skills Protocol: Professional and Teacher’s Book” (Capellini, Smythe, Silva, 2017) and the “Protocol for Cognitive-Language Skills Assessment of Students in Early Literacy” (Silva & Capellini, 2019b). These instruments assess skills considered predictive of literacy, such as reading and writing skills; arithmetic; auditory and visual processing; metalinguistic skills; and processing speed with the rapid automatic naming test. Some tests evaluate mathematical logical reasoning, for example, the “Cognitive-Language Skills Assessment Protocol.”
Likewise, there has been a movement in Brazilian research in recent years to describe the importance of reading fluency measures, especially those related to using a chronometer for timing as measures for screening difficulties, in addition to the development of instruments to assist in this assessment. Alves et al. (2019) described such issues in the most recent publication of the LEPIC® software, which proposes a semiautomatic and instantaneous reading fluency analysis to assess and assist in diagnostics or to monitor reading skills. This analysis focuses on the importance of evaluating parameter fluency, which may include indicators of reading problems such as dyslexia. Another instrument recently developed by Brazilian researchers is a collection of passages in sequential order according to difficulty level and suitable for elementary-school students from the first through fourth grades, called the “Reading Fluency Performance Assessment” (Martins & Capellini, 2018).
Additionally, on 22 February 2018, the More Literacy Program (PMAlfa) was created via MEC Ordinance No. 142, a strategy by the Ministry of Education that aims to strengthen and support school units in the process of increasing the literacy of elementary-school students enrolled in the first and second grades; the program fulfills the criteria established in the Common National Curriculum Base (CNCB). The objective of the program is to perform reading, writing, and math evaluations. For the first time, a formal program of the Brazilian government will evaluate the fluency and accuracy in the reading ability of students in the second grade of elementary school. The assessment is performed individually and uses a proprietary application suitable for smartphones or tablets.
However, despite efforts to create adequate assessment procedures for ORF, research into the characterization of ORF in this population is still incipient. Pacheco and Santos (2017), for example, evaluated three groups of readers in relation to reading fluency who were classified into three groups: group I–second-grade readers with little reading experience and expectation of low reading fluency; group II–second-year high school readers with the expectation of having slightly more reading experience and moderate fluency; and group III–readers with a higher education level. However, the relatively small sample consisted of 12 participants (four participants in each group), and the reading rate was evaluated by using the number of words read compared to the total reading time measured in seconds, considering a total reading time of 180 s (3 min).
In another study (Moutinho, 2016), 46 sixth-grade students from public and private schools were evaluated by measuring the WCPM in 1 min from three different passages. However, the article focused on describing the accuracy errors, i.e., the number and type of WIPM, while data for the WCPM are not presented. Other researchers evaluated 55 students from the third to the seventh grades with the number of words per minute, reading four different types of passages, and analyzing student performance in each (Dellisa & Navas, 2013).
Some researchers have also conducted reading fluency assessment with elementary students, as in a study that evaluated 32 students in ninth grade and calculated the speed of words read per minute (using the formula of total number of words from the passage, divided by the time in seconds spent to complete the reading, and multiplied by 60) (Komeno, Ávila, Cintra, & Schoen, 2015). Furthermore, in another recent study, researchers characterized the ORF by 232 middle-grade students from the sixth to the ninth grades from public and private education. The study provided an estimate of the expected values for each grade surveyed by reading an easy passage based on the 1-min oral fluency assessment, with scores for words read per minute and WCPM (Andrade et al., 2019).
While only a small number of studies for elementary and middle students exist, even fewer studies evaluate reading fluency in high school students or adults. One research study evaluated 88 students in the second grade of high school. The CBM method was followed by selecting a passage compatible with students’ age and grade and comprising subjects corresponding to the basic curriculum studied in the classroom. Students read three different passages, lasting 1 min each, for the subsequent calculation of the number of WCPM (Oliveira, Amaral, & Picanço, 2013). Only one study evaluating reading fluency in adults was found, in which the sample consisted of 30 adolescents and adults who were evaluated by measuring the number of words per minute (Peres & Mousinho, 2017).
The assessment of ORF conducted through WCPM scores presents 30 years of validation research indicating that this is a valid and reliable measure that reflects a student's overall performance in reading development during the first years after literacy (Morris et al., 2017a, b; Tindal, 2017; Valencia et al., 2010). Reading fluency benchmarks have been used both for screening and for monitoring reading development, and research in these fields seeks to answer questions such as “How is student performance compared to their peers?” and “Who are the students struggling with reading?” This practice of frequent assessment enables early intervention and the planning of activities that focus on the skills already acquired and those that still require further attention.
Benchmarks in ORF have been established by American researchers and collected from a range of students, from those identified as talented or otherwise exceptionally skilled to those diagnosed with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia. The largest sample of the ORF benchmark was collected from schools and districts in 23 states in the USA for over 4 years. Based on their vast experience in interpreting ORF data, it was established that a score of 10 words above or below the 50th percentile should be interpreted as an expected score, meaning that students are making satisfactory reading progress (Hasbrouck & Tindal, 2006).
Given the implications that ORF benchmarks would have for Brazilian education, a study to determine a fluency reference through appropriate assessment material would be of great relevance. This benchmarking considers the indication of a median score (50th percentile), with scores of 10 words above or below this median indicating students who have made appropriate reading progress, to assist in assessment and to create parameters for selecting students for interventional programs who are struggling readers or at risk for developing difficulties in reading proficiency later.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the ORF of students from the third to the fifth grades (with a 1-min fluency measure) to characterize their fluency and determine references of appropriate development in reading at the 50th percentile and those below this reference.