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Results of the Oral Reading Study

NAEP Reading Achievement Levels by Selected Student Characteristics
ORF Performance: Passage Reading WCPM
ORF Performance: Passage Reading Accuracy
ORF Performance: Passage Reading Expression
ORF Performance: Foundational Skills Word Reading WCPM
ORF Performance: Foundational Skills Pseudoword Reading WCPM
ORF Performance: Foundational Skills Word Reading WCPM
Correlation between NAEP Reading Score and Oral Reading Performance

NAEP Reading Achievement Levels by Selected Student Characteristics

The table below shows the percentage of students performing at each level of NAEP reading achievement in the ORF study. Note especially that 36 percent of the fourth-grade public school students performed below NAEP Basic.

Percentage of fourth-graders, by NAEP achievement level and selected student characteristics: 2018
Student
characteristics
below
NAEP Basic
NAEP
Basic
NAEP
Proficient
NAEP
Advanced

Total
NOTE: Results are not reported for Asian students and students of other races/ethnicities (including American Indian/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and Two or more races) because sample sizes were too small to meet the NAEP reporting standard for robust estimation. Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. For National School Lunch Program (NSLP) eligibility, about 2 percent of students lacked valid eligibility information. These students were also excluded because of small sample size. Learn more about the NAEP achievement levels here.
All students3630259100
Race/ethnicity
White27303112100
Black5130154100
Hispanic4632184100
NSLP eligibility
Eligible5032162100
Not eligible19283617100

To provide a nuanced picture of the reading performance of low-performing fourth-grade readers, students performing below NAEP Basic in the 2018 ORF study were evenly divided into three groups based on the NAEP reading score distribution. The three groups were labeled below NAEP Basic Low (i.e., the bottom one-third of the students performing below NAEP Basic), below NAEP Basic Medium (i.e., the middle one-third of the students performing below NAEP Basic), and below NAEP Basic High (i.e., the top one-third of the students performing below NAEP Basic). Students’ characteristics and oral reading performance were then compared across these subgroups. As shown in the table below, Black and Hispanic students were overrepresented in the below NAEP Basic Low subgroup.

Percentage of fourth-graders performing below NAEP Basic, by below NAEP Basic subgroup and selected student characteristics: 2018

Student
characteristics
below
NAEP Basic
Low
below
NAEP Basic
Medium
below
NAEP Basic
High


Total
NOTE: Rows may not sum to totals because of rounding. Refer to the previous table for the percentage of fourth-graders performing below NAEP Basic. Results are not reported for Asian students and students of other races/ethnicities (including American Indian/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and Two or more races) because sample sizes were too small to meet the NAEP reporting standard for robust estimation. Black includes African American, and Hispanic includes Latino. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. For National School Lunch Program (NSLP) eligibility, about 2 percent of the students lacked valid eligibility information. These students were also excluded because of small sample size. Learn more about the NAEP achievement levels here.
All students333333100
Race/ethnicity
White263539100
Black403128100
Hispanic373330100
NSLP eligibility
Eligible353431100
Not eligible273241100

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Oral Reading Fluency Performance: Passage Reading

The following figures show that, moving from the highest achievement level (NAEP Advanced) down to NAEP Basic and then through the three below NAEP Basic subgroups, there was a pattern of steadily decreasing performance on each measure of oral reading fluency, word reading, and phonological decoding. The means for passage reading WCPM, passage reading rate, passage reading accuracy, passage reading expression, and pseudoword reading WCPM were statistically different for each adjacent group. For word reading WCPM, all adjacent group comparisons were significant except for the difference between NAEP Advanced and NAEP Proficient.

Passage Reading Words Correct Per Minute

The average passage reading WCPM across all levels was 120. To help put this number in perspective, based on the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) Oral Reading Fluency dataClick to open pdf., a skilled adult reader reads orally at 166 to 178 words correctly per minute.

Passage Reading WCPM chart

* Statistically significant difference compared to the next higher NAEP reading achievement level category, p < .05. All comparisons were conducted with an alpha level of 0.05, with multiple pairwise comparison adjustments applied using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) procedure. NOTE: WCPM is an abbreviation for words correct per minute.

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Passage Reading Accuracy

The passage reading accuracy of students performing below NAEP Basic Low was 82 percent. Eighty-two percent accuracy in practical terms means that students misread 1 out of every 6 words. Students with such a frequent misreading of words most likely will have difficulty understanding the text they read because misread words tend to be content words necessary for text comprehension, not function words (e.g., the, and, on).

Passage Reading Accuracy Percent Chart

* Statistically significant difference compared to the next higher NAEP reading achievement level category, p < .05. All comparisons were conducted with an alpha level of 0.05, with multiple pairwise comparison adjustments applied using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) procedure. NOTE: Accuracy refers to the percentage of words that was read accurately.

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Passage Reading Expression

The average passage reading expression score was at Level 4 on a scale of 0-5, indicating that, overall, fourth-graders could “correctly express text and sentence structure and meaning” of continuous text. In contrast, for students performing below NAEP Basic Low, the average expression score fell below Level 3—suggesting that these fourth-graders tended to focus on local word groupings, which means that they often paused in the middle of a phrase. For example, the sentence “Hawaii is a warm place, but parts of it are cold” would be read as [Hawaii] [is a] [warm place], [but parts of] [it are] [cold].

Passage Reading Expression Chart

* Statistically significant difference compared to the next higher NAEP reading achievement level category, p < .05. All comparisons were conducted with an alpha level of 0.05, with multiple pairwise comparison adjustments applied using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) procedure. NOTE: Expression score 0 = Insufficient passage reading sample for accurate rating; 1 = Reading is word by word; less than a quarter of the words are read with appropriate expression; 2 = Reading focuses on local grouping; less than half of the words are read with appropriate expression; 3 = Reading expresses the meaning of words, phrases, clauses, and a few sentences; more than half of the words are read with appropriate expression; 4 = Reading expresses sentence structure and meaning; more than three-quarters of the words are read with appropriate expression; 5 = Passage is read as if for a listener and is expressive throughout. For detailed passage reading expression score description, see the Scoring page.

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Foundational Skills: Word & Pseudoword Reading

By examining word-level reading apart from a passage, we could better understand the word-level processes that underlie fluency and passage comprehension. What we learned is that the foundational skills—word reading and phonological decoding—also varied widely within the below NAEP Basic subgroups.

Word Reading Words Correct Per Minute

The word-level skills show declines across multiple NAEP reading achievement levels, including the below NAEP Basic subgroups (High vs. Low). The average number of words read correctly per minute in the word list reading was 51.

Word Reading WCPM Chart

* Statistically significant difference compared to the next higher NAEP reading achievement level category, p < .05. All comparisons were conducted with an alpha level of 0.05, with multiple pairwise comparison adjustments applied using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) procedure. NOTE: WCPM is an abbreviation for words correct per minute.

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Pseudoword Reading Words Correct Per Minute

Pseudoword reading skills declined significantly across the NAEP reading achievement levels, including the below NAEP Basic subgroups. The average number of pseudowords read correctly per minute in the pseudoword list reading was 22.

Pseudoword Reading WCPM Chart

* Statistically significant difference compared to the next higher NAEP reading achievement level category, p < .05. All comparisons were conducted with an alpha level of 0.05, with multiple pairwise comparison adjustments applied using the False Discovery Rate (FDR) procedure. NOTE: Pseudoword is a made-up but pronounceable word. WCPM is an abbreviation for words correct per minute.

The correlations between NAEP reading score and the scores of oral reading fluency (passage reading) measures range between .56 (passage reading accuracy) to .75 (passage reading WCPM). The correlations between NAEP reading score and the scores of foundational skills (word reading measures) range from .51 (word reading WCPM) to .55 (pseudoword reading WCPM). Among the oral reading variables, the correlations ranged from .43 (between passage reading accuracy and pseudoword reading WCPM) to .82 (between passage reading WCPM and passage reading expression).

Correlation between NAEP Reading Score, Oral Reading Fluency Measures, and Word Reading Measures
VariableNAEP readingPassage readingWord list reading
WCPMAccuracyExpressionWord readingPseudoword reading
§ These cells do not display data because this is a correlation matrix. Information is shown for the lower triangle only to eliminate redundant information.
NOTE: WCPM is an abbreviation for words correct per minute. All correlations are statistically significant, p < .05. Correlation coefficient ranges from -1 to 1. A correlation of 1 (or -1) means there is a perfect positive (or negative) linear relationship between two variables. A correlation of 0 means there is no linear relationship between two variables.
NAEP Reading1.00§§§§§
Passage Reading WCPM.751.00§§§§
Passage Reading Accuracy.56 .581.00§§§
Passage Reading Expression.73.82.681.00§§
Word Reading WCPM.51.60.46.591.00§
Pseudoword Reading WCPM.55.68.43.60.581.00

NOTE: The estimates (e.g., average scores) are shown as rounded numbers. Unrounded numbers were used for calculating the differences between the estimates, and for the statistical comparison test when the estimates were compared to each other. Not all apparent differences between estimates are statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2018 Oral Reading Fluency study.

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Last updated 08 July 2021 (AA)