The purpose of the oral reading study was to gather specific and measurable performance data about reading accuracy, rate, and fluency of fourth-graders in the nation. Scorers were trained not to penalize variant pronunciations that might arise from regional, dialectical, or patterns of speech related to students whose first language is not English.
All scorers were directed to listen to an entire oral rendering (a brief passage that was written at a second-grade level), to become familiar with the student's unique speech patterns before beginning the accuracy or fluency coding. Scorers were encouraged to determine whether the student knew and correctly read a particular word, given his or her own unique speech characteristics.
Accuracy measures the child's precision in orally presenting the words in the text and is measured as a percentage of words read correctly. For example, students whose reading was rated 98 percent accurate made 4 or fewer errors in reading the 198-word passage. Students with 5 to 10 errors were reading with approximately 95 to 97 percent accuracy.Those with 21 or more errors per 198 words were rated as less than 90 percent accurate.
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 fluency is a rating of the student's ability to render an appropriately phrased and syntactically coherent delivery of the passage.
A four-level NAEP Oral Fluency Scale was developed for the study. The scale focused on several key elements of oral reading. First, the apparent grouping of words, or phrasing, produced by students was central to describing their fluency. For the purposes of scoring, this phrasing manifested itself through the intonation, stress, and pauses exhibited by oral readings, and in the perceived rise and fall of pitch, or simply by the hesitation or pause between phrase endings and phrase beginnings as students read the passage aloud.
A second key element of the fluency scale involved listening for whether readers adhered to the author's syntax and sentence structure. Recognizing the author's syntax is critical to smooth oral delivery of texts because identical groups of words can acquire varying syntactical patterns when readers apply different intonations, stress placements, or pause insertions. Adhering to the author's syntax during oral reading requires that the reader be aware of the ideas expressed in the text.
The last element of the fluency scale was expressiveness in the oral reading presentation. While fourth-graders were not expected to offer a consistently expressive oral presentation, their overall fluency rate was influenced by their ability to convey expressiveness naturally through the passage. The presence of some expressiveness on the part of the oral reader—the interjection of feeling, anticipation, or even a level of characterization—clearly marked the performance of more fluent readers, while the lack of emotional engagement with the text marked less fluent readings of the passage.
The scale was first developed for the 1992 study. It was applied holistically, rather than analytically; that is, trained raters were asked to categorize each individual student's oral reading by the level description that best categorized the overall performance.