Fluency and Comprehension: Master of Science in Education Research Project



Millions of students struggle with learning to read, and in response to this challenge a panel of psychologists, scientists, teachers and school administrators collaborated together to research the cause of this problem as part of a government initiative known as the National Reading Panel (NRP) (2000). The NRP (2000) identified several factors that could lead to struggle in reading and outlined the main components of the process by which students learn to read. Their work established a foundation upon which continued research to methodically optimize instructional practice to improve reading outcomes, and this research project is intended to contribute to that effort. In particular, this research project is designed to assess the extent to which an intensive reading fluency intervention can improve reading comprehension for students in the third grade.   

The NRP (2001) identified fluency as one of the five pillars of reading development based on empirical findings. Fluency is the ability to read quickly and accurately and to articulate certain words correctly—putting the right feeling, or emphasis stress on the right word or phrase. Fluent reading is highly correlated to greater reading comprehension. The correlation between fluency and comprehension was also clearly established by an extremely vast scale data analysis by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Reading (Pinnell et al.1995) which revealed that 44% of the participants were non-fluent when reading grade level material. The study also showed a significant positive relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension performance.

From the perspective of constructivist learning theory it is easy to map the relationships that exist among the various skills that constitute the ability to read, including (among others) identification of terms, reading fluency, and reading comprehension.  For many readers problems with identification of terms can lead to problems with fluency, which can lead to problems with comprehension. According to Armbruster, Lehr, and Osborn (2001), less fluent readers concentrate their attention on decoding words, leaving less attention for comprehension. Once students start to develop decoding skills and word recognition becomes natural and automatic, gains in fluency and comprehension can be made. It is appropriate, then, to proceed logically from decoding to fluency and from fluency to comprehension when guiding students in their practice. 

Accordingly, the author of this paper is interested in assessing the effectiveness of an intervention intended to improve comprehension indirectly by offering intensive practice to build fluency.  In this research project the relationship between fluency and reading comprehension will be investigated as well as the attempt to increase fluency help students attain greater reading comprehension. It takes the form of a pre-test and a post-test single case design involving one participant, and as such it can also function as a pilot study to prepare for future research involving the same intervention applied with larger numbers of students.

Statement of the Problem

Educational research has demonstrated that a large proportion of students struggle with reading comprehension (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006).  A study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (2013) showed that among students in the eighth grade only 36% were found to be proficient in reading. Educators can mitigate this problem by addressing the specific topic of fluency as a prerequisite for reading comprehension. It is necessary to improve instructional effectiveness in the earlier grades in order to set the stage for better outcomes throughout primary education.   

Fluency has been shown by numerous research studies including the NRP to be a major obstacle to helping students achieve higher understanding in reading. It has also been shown when not addressed early enough students begin with a poor start in reading, they rarely catch up, in turn the academic distance from those who read well grows more pronounced (The readers encounter negative consequences: grade retention, assignment to special education classrooms, or participation in long-term remedial services. Further, as they progress through the grade levels Learning First Alliance, 1998; Rashotte, Toregesen, & Wagner, 1997; National Reading Panel, 1999; Torgesen, 1998).

Fluency is one of the key methods of increasing student reading comprehension. This has been noted by many reading experts like Margie McGlinchey, who observed that “being able to read words by sight automatically is the key to skilled reading of text. This allows readers to process words in text quickly, without attention directed to the word itself” (p. 11) This was further developed by Linnea C. Ehri with the intend of discovering how readers systematically develop and grow in stages from being non-readers to the point where they can identify words effortlessly; which later came to be known to as the Ehri’s Four stages of reading development. This was further supported by other known researchers in the field Melanie Kuhn and Steven Stahl to do research that further supported fluency as the key to greater reading comprehension and increased reading levels. From their study they concluded “that when fluency instruction was compared with the traditional instruction used with a basal reader, fluency instruction improved children’s reading fluency and comprehension” (Kuhn and Stahl, 2000).



In this chapter the correlation between and the benefits of teaching oral reading fluency will be displayed first. Next, the theoretical framework for Students at Risk for Reading Failure will be described and later implemented on an at risk student in reading. Thirdly research studies on the response of teaching reading fluency on at risk students in reading and how it affected their overall reading comprehension will be discussed covering in detail the criteria for identification evaluation and research article summaries of fluency instruction and its effects on overall reading ability and comprehension. Finally, the significance is presented and followed by the research questions.

            Research articles for this study were obtained through utilization of the online research databases the Educational Research Information Center also known as ERIC and the research database known as EBSCO Host. Research articles were also found through the articles themselves as numerous studies reference and cite previous studies that have examined the same issues and ideas. For Fluency numerous articles have been done to examine its link to reading comprehension they often build on the research of others or test the work of others in that same field.

Theoretical Framework

The study utilized The Reading Fluency Instruction for Students at Risk for Reading Failure by Ring et al. as the theoretical framework for this study. The article endorses the instruction of fluency to help improve overall reading achievement and its strong relationship with reading comprehension and overall reading ability. It explains what fluency is the ability to read words out loud quickly and with expression and how it is linked to higher reading comprehension. It also explains why they believe it fluency improves reading comprehension which they attribute to lower time and energy spent decoding and instead more focus for content understanding and analysis. This study utilized specific instruction in oral fluency. They suggest this through the utilization of the repeat reading strategy as one method of teaching fluency. They identify this particular fluency strategy as they see it as the most effective way to teach fluency for reading improvement. They also cite numerous studies to support it including the National Reading Panel 2000 and Stanovich (1986).

            This article was chosen for this study because it is consistent with the proposed hypothesis of this study. They subscribe to the theory that developing fluency frees up student’s energy and time to focus on the content of the text instead of wasting their time putting together the sounds of the letters and trying to figure out the words. They base this on earlier research theories of LaBerge and Samuels (1974) and Stanovich (1986). They then drew upon evidence from the results of extensive long term studies like the National Reading Panel (2000) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2005). It also supports using repeat reading strategies as the major method of fluency intervention which is supported by this study as it is an accessible yet effective intervention for most students.

Fluency Assessment/Measurement

In order to efficiently teach fluency, the subject’s current level of fluency must be assessed in order to figure out fluency level so that intervention can be manipulated in order to meet needs of the participant (Samuels, 1997). In order to be able to identify non fluent students an assessment is needed. There are some standardized methods to test for fluency such as Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills otherwise known as DIBELS. Another assessment for Oral reading fluency is the Gray Oral Reading Test (the one used in the study) by (GORT; Wiederholt & Bryant, 2001).

The GORT contains three subtest scales: Rate, Accuracy, and Comprehension. The study also utilized the assessment Test of Word Reading Efficiency or (TOWRE; Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1999). The TOWRE contains two sub-test scales: Sight Word and Phonological Decoding Efficiency. There also various informal assessment s that can be used for progress of (for example Qualitative Reading Inventory and leveled reading passages by publisher Houghton Mifflin. For this study a mixture of standardized and informal assessments will be utilized to assess the subject and monitor the subject’s progress. As a result no matter what the student level is they are to be assessed by a standardized assessment to figure out the current fluency level and then the intervention can be planned according to the level of the student.

Article Summary

Ring et al. (2013) conducted a study with eighty-six participants from second grade to fifth grade. Participants were sampled from five schools in one suburban public school district in Texas. The students were from general education settings; none were in Special Education or receiving special services for reading and/or disabilities. The participants were classified as at risk for reading failure by their school based either on failing the previous year’s state-mandated reading assessment or failure to achieve age-level performance on a standardized measure of reading progress. Students meeting these criteria were signed up in Accelerated Reading Instruction (ARI), a state-level reading program equivalent to Tier II intervention. The ARI mandate required that in addition to regular classroom reading instruction, enrolled students receive reading instruction that targeted their specific weakness in reading.

All participants were assed and evaluated before the treatment educational diagnosticians contracted for the research study using the Gray Oral Reading Test or the GORT. The same assessment was delivered at the end of the intervention. The intervention was delivered by 25 teachers tasked with providing Tier II reading instruction to their students who were struggling with reading thirty minutes a day three to four times a week. Twelve teachers used the text-level instruction; the remainder used the word-level treatment for their ARI classes. e word-level treatment used a published program for reading fluency and comprehension instruction in the classroom (Rite Flight; Avrit et al., 2006).

The general procedure was a variation on previous models of repeated readings of individual words that were grouped together by word families. All the participants in the word-level training group began at the Primer Level. The training for all levels started with one-timed reading of the selected text to figure out a student’s baseline reading rate in correct words per minute for that passage. The participant then worked with individual word study pages by orally reading the pages to the instructor as quickly and accurately as they could within 30 seconds they had. After completion, the teacher would record the student’s reading rate and then repeat the procedure. The results proved to be mixed according to the study. As the younger students made significant gains the older students did not.    

Repeated Reading

This study examines the relationship between fluency and its effect on overall reading ability and comprehension. However, in order to increase fluency a specific intervention is needed to be utilized to target reading fluency and for this study it will be repeated reading. Repeated reading is a strategy that students read and re-read a selected short passage until they reach a satisfactory level of fluency. This strategy was selected because of relative accessibility as well overwhelming evidence for support from research by Stanovich (1998) and the National Reading Panel (2000).

Article Summary

Huang, et al. (2008) the study consisted of two second grade students both seven years old. The intervention was implemented through six, 30-minute week over a course of ten weeks. The number of 2 at risk, struggling second grade students attended at a charter school in Northern Colorado. They were chosen because they did not respond to tier one reading intervention. The initial reading level for both subjects was established by using a pre-test with the Flynt-Cooter Reading Inventory (1993), a commonly used criterion-reference test by elementary teachers to determine levels and progress. A research-based tutoring approach utilizing repeated reading was carried out three times a week every week over a course of a 10-week period by two high school students. 

The high school students were trained in delivering the intervention and were assigned the task of administering the intervention as part of their community service requirement. Each second grader was paired with one high school student for the intervention. The intervention also required that one family member either a parent or older sibling be trained and administer the intervention on the same days they have the intervention in school in order to allow at least 6 repeat readings.  The high school students and the family tutors were given specific instructions for the three sessions per week including modeling, feedback, rehearsal, comprehension checks and communication with each other. The integrity of the intervention was inspected by having all tutors demonstrate actual tutoring, and subsequent check-ins and observations with corrective feedback at two later times during the 10-week period. The results showed positive results. Students improved by an average of 16.5 words per minute. However, it fell short of the average gains made in previous studies. This is likely due to the limitations of the study, for example small sample size and subjects were below average as opposed to average students seen in previous studies.

Article Summary

Pikulski & Chard (2005) article review asserts that fluency is a major component to achievement in reading. They assert that fluency has a strong correlation with reading comprehension. They believe that recognizing words and letter sounds automatically frees up the mind for more energy to understand and analyze the reading material instead of draining energy and focus over sounding out words. They cited several studies on neurological processing during reading that was conducted by LaBerge and Samuels (1974). They also review major studies of fluency’s effect on reading comprehension and reading level from Stanovich and the National Reading Panel. They then based their previous research findings and the previous research and they noticed a correlation between all these studies and their own work that there is indeed a positive correlation between reading comprehension and fluency.

Their method of choice that they assert, helps to increase fluency is a strategy known as repeat reading. In this strategy students read and re-read a selected short passage until they reach a satisfactory level of fluency. Their previous work particularly chard 2000 and Stanovich 1998 showed improvements in reading through the utilization of this strategy. It is important that they noted that assessments for fluency are somewhat limited and but they still identified useful ones for assessing fluency Qualitative Reading Inventory and leveled reading passages created by publishing company Houghton Mifflin.


If at risk learner receives instruction receives instruction in fluency for eight weeks, then his or her reading comprehension should improve by at least one level.


The purpose of this study is to show how explicit instruction in fluency and can help improve overall reading ability and comprehension. In this study the intervention that will be utilized to instruct fluency will the repeat reading method. There will be a pre and post -test given at beginning and the end with continual monitoring during the process. Overall reading ability will be passed through Fountas and Pinnell leveled books and question and fluency will be assessed through use Qualitative Reading Inventory materials.

Significance of study

The amount of students struggling to read at their own grade level in the United States is alarming. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2014) by the end of fourth grade 65% of American school children cannot read at the basic level. The basic level meaning they read a text and understand what it means (reading Comprehension). It is imperative that students improve their reading skills in order to complete school as well as be able succeed in the future job market. Research has shown that oral reading fluency has a strong correlation with reading comprehension and ability. This is especially true for emergent readers in early childhood education as fluent readers tend to read higher overall than their non-fluent peers as shown by the National Reading Panel (200) Stanovich (1986). Research has shown that when students have explicit instruction in fluency their overall reading level increases, specifically through the use of repeated reading as supported by the National Reading Panel (2000) and Pikulski and Chard (2005).

Research Question

If a third grade oral reading intervention were set up in what way if any would oral reading fluency and reading comprehension improve for an at risk learner?

Chapter III


In this chapter the research design is presented first. Then it will be followed by the context/setting (the school demographics). Third will the demographic of the subject of the study. Following that will be the description of the interventionist who it is and what their ethnic and educational professional background is and what they have achieved to allow them to conduct this study. Next will be the dependent variables that measure the outcome will be presented. Subsequently, the procedures that assisted in the implementation of the intervention will be described.

Research Design

This research study will utilize a pre-test and a post-test single case design with only one subject. The single subject will be tested before hand to figure out what reading level them currently on and what level of fluency they currently have. The instructional condition with a single subject consists of one level as there is only one participant. The intervention was the independent variable designed to improve comprehension through instruction of oral reading fluency. Then the subject will be instructed in oral reading fluency thirty minutes a day three to four times per week over the course of eight weeks. The strengths of this intervention include a wide body of research to support it as well as accessibility. It does not require costly materials or complicated methods to carry out. The areas of concern in this study are that the sample is really small and there are limitations on time.

School Demographics

The school is a public elementary school that serves a lower income community in the inner city. It is located in Harlem. The school largely serves disadvantaged minorities and children of immigrants and children of African-American descent. The classroom will either be a collaborative co-teaching classroom setting with general education students and students with individualized education plans (also known as IEP’s) or a special education self -contained class where only special education students are served. The strengths of this study include accessibility for the student and more assistance in a subject they are struggling with. The area of concern with this that the school is more disadvantaged and time and space to implement intervention may become an obstacle. Another area of concern might be the choice of time intervention will take place if teacher selects it a time student usually enjoys with classmates for example lunch/recess, art, or gym this could affect the intervention.


The participant is an eight year old African-American girl who has been classified as at risk student in reading. The student is a third grader, approximately eight years old. The student is also of a non-white disadvantaged background with low socio-economic status. The participant has been classified as being at risk for reading failure; participant’s status will have been previously determined by her school’s IEP program and her teacher’s current assessments. Nothing is known about the details of current student’s IEP details and disabilities he or she might have. In fact, since the interventionist is not the main teacher most of students IEP details will not be disclosed except what he or she is struggling with and the possible barriers that are linked to why he or she might be struggling. This is a major area of concern for the study as not knowing certain major details about any particular disability they may have can hinder the efficacy of the intervention. However, the strengths of this study since it is single subject it could help strengthen the outcome of intervention as one to one time offers more attention and help to the subject.


During this intervention a graduate student training special education instruction for almost two years at City University of New York City College. The interventionist will complete this intervention as part of a requirement for the program and will be placed to the site through the College’s fieldwork office. The interventionist will solely administer the treatment to the participant. The interventionist is a non-white female over 100 hours of special education classroom experience. The strengths of this area is that the interventionist is training in special education instruction and has some experience delivering interventions to at risk students. The areas of concern are that the interventionist may not have enough experience and as an outsider the school may not be as accommodating as needed for the intervention to succeed.

Independent Variable

The intervention that will be administered to the participant is an oral fluency intervention for reading. The treatment will consist of one to one instruction of oral reading fluency. It will utilize a strategy known as repeated reading strategy. In this intervention the conductor of the study will model by reading to the student and then student proceed to read text out loud over and over until text is read quickly and with appropriate expression? The treatment will be administered three to four times a week for thirty minutes for eight weeks. Leveled books and passages will be utilized in this procedure as well as materials for assessment like Qualitative Reading Inventory, running records, and leveled passages. The strengths of this procedure is accessibility and availability of materials needed. The areas of concern in this procedure might be timing of the procedure as well as availability of a quiet location to administer intervention effectively.

Dependent Variable

The assessments that will be used in the study will be assessments to measure fluency and reading comprehension. The assessments for fluency will be leveled passages for repeated timed read aloud. For reading comprehension leveled texts with follow up questions on the text. The assessment materials that will be used are the standard assessments that were created by educational professionals for the purpose of assessing fluency and comprehension, they are utilized by teachers and school staff for such issues.

Progress monitoring

Over the course of the intervention period the participant will be monitored on their progress. Progress monitoring will be conducted through running records which texts or words believed to be at students or close to student’s reading level. Student reads it over a timed session allowing the instructor to see where student’s weakness lies and how fluent they are.  Using this tool interventionist can adjust treatment to better meet the subject’s needs.


The procedure of the treatment will be as follows, the administrator of the treatment will introduce the text the first time to the student. They will then proceed to model proper way to read the text in a quick, accurate and with proper expression. The student will then read the text over and over (provided corrective feedback when needed) until they can read the text fluently. Then the administrator will begin the process over again with different text until student’s reading ability improves a level.

The Training of Interventionist

Interventionist is specifically trained in special education instruction. The interventionist has also researched the intervention and practiced it before conducting intervention as to ensure efficacy of the procedure. The administrator will utilize standard assessments for measuring participant’s baseline and then their progress. The strengths of this are that the interventionist has experience in this field. However, there are still areas of concern with interventionist’s limited experience.

Implementation Fidelity

The implementation will be administered in a one to one setting between participant and researcher. Participant will be pulled out for the sessions during lunch when the other students are in the cafeteria. The interventionist will deliver one to one instruction in oral reading fluency three to four times a week for thirty minutes. The routine will consist of reading aloud text and repeating the reading (with corrective feedback when needed) with progress monitoring over the course the intervention.

Training of Data Collectors

Data will be collected through pre-test and post tests as well progress monitoring tools in between the pre test and final post test.