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Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud:
NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading

October 2005

Authors: Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje

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Image of a laptop computer, a pair headphones, and a printout of a reading passage.

Executive Summary

Major Findings


Executive Summary

The purpose of Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading is to examine aspects of oral reading performance—accuracy, rate, and fluency—that cannot be observed from results of the main NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reading assessment. The results provided here are intended to inform educators and researchers about these three aspects of fourth-graders’ oral reading performance and how they relate to their overall reading ability as measured by the 2002 reading assessment.

This study focuses on one relevant, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of reading performance—oral reading ability. Oral reading performance, measured by the components of accuracy, rate, and fluency, constitutes a cluster of critical literacy proficiencies and functions as a significant indicator of overall reading ability.

The present report is a follow-up study to the 1992 study, Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4 (Pinnell et al. 1995). Both were commissioned by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). The 1992 study was NAEP’s initial attempt at large-scale measurement of oral reading abilities and one of the first ever performed.

Some of the major findings of the 1992 study include the rating of 55 percent of the participants as fluent, with 13 percent rated fluent at the highest level, based on the same fluency scale used in the present study. Another finding showed a significant relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension, as measured by overall reading proficiency on the main NAEP assessment. Furthermore, a majority of the participants (57 percent) were at least 96 percent accurate in their oral reading of the passage used in the study. Moreover, the students’ errors seemed related to overall proficiency only when the errors involved a change in the meaning of the oral reading passage. Results for reading rate showed that 61 percent of students read at least 100 words per minute, and, on average, slower readers demonstrated lower reading proficiency. Overall, positive relationships were found among accuracy, rate, and fluency.

NAEP’s 2002 data collection on oral reading used much of the same methodology and approach to understanding and reporting oral reading as the 1992 study; however, the results of the two studies are not comparable because different reading passages and administration procedures were used. The students who participated in the 2002 oral reading study also participated in the main NAEP assessment of reading comprehension; therefore, it is possible to examine the relationship between students’ oral reading accuracy, rate, and fluency and their reading comprehension (Dole et al. 1991).

The data in this study were collected from a subsample (1,779) of the sample (140,000) of fourth-graders who participated in the NAEP reading assessment during the early spring of 2002. The data were derived from electronic recordings of the participants reading aloud a 198-word excerpt of “The Box in the Barn,” one of the passages the students had encountered one week earlier when they sat for the main NAEP assessment. Only three race/ethnicity groups (White, Black, and Hispanic) were represented in the oral reading study in great enough numbers to report results for these students. Differences in student performance are discussed only if they have been determined by t tests in combination with false discovery rate procedures for multiple comparisons to be significant at the .05 level.

A nonresponse analysis was conducted because school and student response rates did not meet NCES statistical standard 3-2-5 concerning achieving desirable response rates. The rates are currently set at 85 percent for NAEP. When the rates are between 70 and 85 percent, an extensive analysis is conducted that examines, among other factors, the potential for nonresponse bias at both the school and student levels. A nonresponse bias analysis was completed by computing weighted response rates for various school- and student-level characteristics of interest and by conducting chi-square tests. The school nonresponse investigated in these analyses is cumulative nonresponse to both NAEP and the study. The only variables not significant in the oral reading study are type of location at the school level and gender and year of birth at the student level. All other variables show a differential rate of nonresponse between subgroups. The final rates were not adjusted as a result of the nonresponse bias analysis specifically, but were adjusted as a result of nonresponse. More details on nonresponse bias analysis can be found in appendix A.

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Major Findings

Oral Reading Accuracy

In the context of this study, accuracy refers to the degree to which a student’s oral reading conforms to the letter-sound conventions of printed English (i.e., accuracy measures the child’s precision in orally presenting the words in the text). Accuracy is measured as a percentage of words read correctly. For example, students whose reading was rated 98 percent accurate made between 0 and 4 errors in reading the 198-word passage. Those with 21 or more errors per 198 words were rated as less than 90 percent accurate.

Accuracy and Comprehension

  • Approximately three-quarters of the participating fourth-graders read the passage with at least 95 percent accuracy (figure 2-1).
  • Students who read with the fewest errors demonstrated greater comprehension, as measured by their higher average reading scores on the main NAEP reading assessment (figure 2-2).
  • The average score for students reading with between 95 and 97 percent accuracy (226) was within the Basic achievement level (figure 2-2).
  • Those students who read with between 90 and 94 percent accuracy had an average score (206) that was not significantly different from the Basic achievement-level cut score.
  • Students who read the passage with less than 90 percent accuracy had an average score (180) on the main NAEP reading assessment that fell below the Basic level (figure 2-2).

Meaning-Change and Non-Meaning-Change Errors

All errors may not be equally disruptive to a reader’s attempt to understand a passage. An error may or may not result in a change of meaning to the text. In the oral reading study, variant pronunciations (such as those arising from regional, dialectical, or nonnative speech) were not considered reading errors unless the mispronunciation altered sentence meaning.

  • Occurrences of oral reading errors, regardless of their effect on text meaning, were negatively related to comprehension (figure 2-2).
  • Approximately 9 out of 10 students read with at least 95 percent accuracy when only meaning-change errors were counted (figure 2-5).
  • When only meaning-change errors were considered, students with higher average accuracy rates also had higher average scale scores (figure 2-6).

Accuracy and Self-Correction of Errors

  • Nearly one-half of the students self-corrected at least 50 percent of their meaning-change errors, but only about one-quarter of students self-corrected at least 50 percent of non-meaning-change errors (figures 2-7b and 2-7c).
  • Generally, the relationship between the proportion of all errors self-corrected and average reading score is positive—the greater the proportion of errors self-corrected (counting all error types), the higher the average score. Students who corrected more than 75 percent of all errors had higher average scores (237) than students who corrected 50 to 75 percent of their errors (230) (figure 2-8).

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Oral Reading Rate

Rate refers to the speed at which the student reads aloud. In this study, rate is measured as both the number of words per minute for the entire performance and the number of words in the initial minute of oral reading.

Reading Rate Measures

  • The fourth-graders spent an average of 1 minute and 40 seconds reading the 198-word oral reading passage.
  • The fourth-graders’ average reading rate across the entire passage was 119 words per minute.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of fourth-graders read the passage with an average rate of at least 105 words per minute for the entire passage (figure 3-1).
  • Speed of oral reading measured as words per minute for the entire passage was positively related to comprehension as measured by average score on the main NAEP assessment (figure 3-2).

Reading Rate and Comprehension

  • When reading rate is calculated as words per minute for the entire passage, the average score for students who read less than 80 words per minute was 185, and the average score for students who read between 80 and 104 words per minute was 207. The average score for students who read between 105 and 129 words per minute was 225, and the average score for students who read at least 130 words per minute was 244 (figure 3-2).
  • Nearly four-fifths (approximately 79 percent) of fourth-graders read the passage at a rate of at least 105 words per minute for the first minute of reading (figure 3-5).
  • When reading rate is calculated as the number of words read for the first minute of oral reading, the average score for students who read less than 80 words was 176, and the average score for students who read between 80 and 104 words was 196. The average score for students who read between 105 and 129 words was 216, and the average score for students who read 130 words or more was 238 (figure 3-6).
  • Speed of oral reading as measured for the first minute of reading was positively related to comprehension as measured by average score on the main NAEP assessment (figure 3-6).

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Oral Reading Fluency

In this study, fluency was considered a distinct attribute of oral reading separate from accuracy and rate. Fluency was defined in terms of phrasing, adherence to the author’s syntax, and expressiveness and was measured at one of four levels (1–4, with 4 being the measure of highest fluency) on NAEP’s Oral Reading Fluency Scale.

Fluency Measures

  • The oral reading of approximately 61 percent of fourth-graders was characterized as fluent—that is, in the top two levels of the fluency scale (figures 4-1and 4-2).
  • Ten percent of the students scored at the highest level of the fluency scale, indicating that they read with phrasing that was consistent with the author’s syntax and with some degree of expressiveness (figures 4-1 and 4-2).

Fluency and Comprehension

  • Fourth-grade students’ oral reading fluency showed a positive relationship to their reading comprehension (i.e., more-fluent readers also demonstrated higher comprehension)(figure 4-3).
  • Students whose oral reading was rated nonfluent—that is, in the lower two levels of the fluency scale—performed at or below the Basic achievement level on the main NAEP reading assessment. The average main NAEP reading score for students rated at fluency level 2 (207) was not significantly different from the Basic achievement-level cut score (208), and the average main NAEP reading score for students rated at fluency level 1 (177) fell 31 points below the Basic achievement-level cut score (figure 4-3).

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The Relation Between Three Measures of Oral Reading Ability—Accuracy, Rate, and Fluency

  • Students rated in the two lower levels on the fluency scale were reading with lower than 95 percent accuracy, on average.
  • Overall, the data from this study indicate that the three separate oral reading abilities—accuracy, rate, and fluency—are related to each other, and all three are related to reading comprehension.
  • Fourth-grade students rated as fluent readers were more likely to be accurate and to read at a faster rate than students rated as nonfluent (figures 4-6 and 4-7).
  • The majority of the nonfluent readers were reading at an average rate of fewer than 105 words per minute (figure 4-7).

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Accuracy, Rate, and Fluency Results for Subgroups

  • Accuracy results for gender and racial/ethnic groups parallel the findings of the main NAEP reading assessment. Those groups of students who performed at higher levels on the main assessment also were more likely to read with greater accuracy and at a faster rate in the oral reading study (figure 2-3 and 2-4).
  • When accuracy was measured as a percentage of words read accurately, 37 percent of female students as compared to 32 percent of male students read with at least 98 percent accuracy (figure 2-3). Thirty-eight percent of White students, 23 percent of Black students, and 31 percent of Hispanic students read with at least 98 percent accuracy (figure 2-4).
  • Those groups of students who performed at higher levels on the main NAEP assessment were also more likely to read at a faster rate. When rate was measured as words per minute for the entire passage, approximately 44 percent of female fourth-graders read at an average rate of at least 130 words per minute, as did 33 percent of male fourth-graders (figure 3-3). Forty-five percent of White students read at an average rate of at least 130 words per minute, as did 18 percent of Black students and 24 percent of Hispanic students (figure 3-4).
  • When rate was measured as words per minute in the first minute of oral reading, 60 percent of female students, as compared to 53 percent of male students, read at a rate of at least 130 words per minute during the initial minute (figure 3-7). Sixty-four percent of White students, 35 percent of Black students, and 45 percent of Hispanic students read at least 130 words in the first minute (figure 3-8).
  • Consistent with reading comprehension results in the main assessment, a greater percentage of female students (64 percent) than male students (56 percent) were rated as fluent when fluency levels 3 and 4 are combined (see figure 4-4). A greater percentage of White students (68 percent) were rated as fluent when fluency levels 3 and 4 are combined compared to their Black (40 percent) and Hispanic (46 percent) peers (figure 4-5).

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PDF Download the complete report in a PDF file for viewing and printing. (970K PDF)

NCES 2006-469 Ordering information

Suggested Citation
Daane, M.C., Campbell, J.R., Grigg, W.S., Goodman, M.J., and Oranje, A. (2005). Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading (NCES 2006-469). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.


Last updated 15 March 2010 (RF)

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