Monitoring Early Reading Development in First Grade: Word Identification Fluency versus Nonsense Word Fluency

Article excerpt

Curriculum-based measurement (CBM) provides teachers with reliable, valid, and efficient indicators of academic competence with which to gauge individual student standing at one point in time or to index student progress across time (Deno, 1985). CBM is the most widely studied form of classroom assessment, with more than 150 studies in peer-reviewed journals establishing its psychometric tenability and its instructional utility. Given the strength of the existing literature, CBM is becoming a signature feature associated with effective special education (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997; President's Commission, 2002).

At the same time, in reading, most CBM research has focused on the passage reading fluency task, which becomes appropriate for most students sometime during the second semester of first grade. Additional research is needed to examine the tenability of reading tasks that address an earlier phase of reading, developmentally appropriate for most children during the first half or (depending on the child) much of first grade. This study compared two CBM measures for this beginning phase of first-grade reading development. In this introduction, we provide background information on CBM, review the literature on the two measures on which we focus the present study, and clarify the purpose and importance of the present study.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON CBM

CBM differs from most forms of classroom assessment in several ways (Fuchs & Deno, 1991) including these two features: First, CBM is standardized so that the behaviors to be measured and the procedures for measuring those behaviors are prescribed, with documented reliability and validity. Second, CBM's focus is long-term so that the testing methods and the testing content remain constant, with equivalent weekly tests spanning much, if not all, of the school year. The reason for long-term consistency is so that progress can be monitored systematically over time.

In using the CBM passage reading fluency task, the teacher relies on established methods to identify passages of equivalent difficulty; each equivalent passage represents the material students should be comfortable reading at year's end. The teacher administers CBM by having the student read aloud a different passage for each assessment, each time for 1 min, and the weekly score is the number of words read correctly. Each assessment produces an indicator of reading competence because it requires a multifaceted performance. This performance entails, for example, a reader's skill at automatically translating letters into coherent sound representations, unitizing those sound components into recognizable wholes and automatically accessing lexical representations, processing meaningful connections within and between sentences, relating text meaning to prior information, and making inferences to supply missing information. As competent readers translate text into spoken language, they coordinate these skills in an obligatory, seemingly effortless manner (Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, & Jenkins, 2001).

Because the CBM passage reading fluency task reflects this complex performance, it can be used to characterize reading expertise and to track its development in the primary grades (e.g., Biemiller, 1977-1978; Fuchs & Deno, 1991). To characterize reading expertise, CBM is interpreted in a norm-referenced or criterion-referenced framework. Within a normative framework, practitioners designate reading difficulty by comparing CBM performance levels between individuals. For example, with local CBM norms, students performing below the third percentile are identified as reading disabled and entitled to intensive reading instruction. Within a criterion-referenced perspective, CBM benchmarks specify the minimum performance levels associated with future reading success. For example, schools might establish that students who fail to attain a CBM score of 75 by the end of second grade have a poor probability of achieving a "proficient" score on their state's high-stakes fourth-grade reading assessment; therefore, students scoring below this benchmark at the end of second grade are candidates for intensive reading instruction. …