Research: Improving Silent Reading Performance

The study of reading fluency using computers is just in its early stages. This is a report of a three-month study of AceReader Pro in a small rural central Wisconsin elementary school.

There were two criteria used in looking at computer programs dealing with fluency for classrooms. First I needed to find a program that could engage students in reading. Second, and most important, it had to be technologically simple.

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) (2000) study of the use of technology in schools defined three distinct phases in technology uses and expectations: Print Automation, Expansion of Learning Opportunities, and Data-Driven Virtual Learning. This report looked at the three phases and how to best use technology in the K-12 setting.

  • Phase I: the use of behavioral-based branching software relying heavily on drill and practice to teach segmented content and/or skills
  • Phase II: computers become tools for learner-centered practices rather than content delivery systems, helping teachers move from largely isolated learning activities to applications that involved working in groups
  • Phase III: making schools more effective through the use of data-driven decision making

After looking at several fluency programs, I decided that Ace Reader Pro was the most versatile. It allows the teacher with little technological skill to stay at Phase I; just using the program for practicing fluency on computers provides a vehicle for increasing skills. If a teacher is comfortable using the other parts of the program: designing comprehension tests, editing games, and more (outlined in the “intervention” section of this paper) they can move easily from Phase I to Phase II.

As an added incentive for use; Ace Reader Pro technology offers opportunities for data-driven assessments tied to the content standards. This is significant for NCLB and Response to intervention (RTI) mandates. In Ace the teacher or the student is able to print the results of a sessions for both words per minutes and comprehension scores.

Description of the intervention:

Although I usually work with special education, I had the opportunity to do research with ‘regular’ education. This research included all fifth-graders at Randolph Elementary, a rural central Wisconsin school. It consisted of two thirty minute sessions two times per week from January 17, 2005 to April 13, 2005. I monitored all sessions. The classroom teachers were encouraged to observe the sessions but were not mandated to do so. All students used AceReader Pro.

Randolph Elementary School is located in Central Wisconsin in a town of 3,313. Of the district’s 547 students 42 are minorities and 79 are special education. The two fifth-grade classes have a total of 36 students. Two teachers, with over twenty years experience each, share teaching responsibilities. One teaches all students social studies and Language the other teaches them math and science. They both teach reading to their homeroom classes. The classes switch each day after lunch. In this school there is a strong “class sense” – that is, it would be more appropriate to say that two teachers team teach the fifth grade rather than that there are two fifth grade teachers. The students have approximately the same amount of time with each teacher.


As a pre-test baseline, all fifth-graders were administered the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) for fifth grade in late December, 2004. The post-test was administered late April, 2005. The DIBELS is a set of standardized, individually administered measures of early literacy development. These are short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading skills. The range in reading was significant—from 51 words per minute to 219 words per minute. Note that fluent adults read at 250 words per minute. (See Chart 1 below)

Chart 1: detailing the rate (words per minute) for average 5 th grader.

DIBELS measure

Fifth Grade

Beginning of year Month 1-3

Middle of Year Month 4-6

End of year Month 7-10

DIBELS oral Reading Fluency

ORF <81

81<= ORF <104

ORF> = 104

ORF <94

94<= ORF <115

ORF> = 115

ORF <103

103<= ORF <124

ORF> = 124

Top score is At-Risk
Middle Score is Some Risk
Bottom score is Low Risk

Chart 2: Comparison of December and April WPM scores

Only four students did not make gains from December to April in DIBELS results. Of those four, one went from 188 to 194; and both scores are still well above the average for a fifth grade student. One of those four did not make gains in the Ace Reader Pro results either. The other three students made gains in Ace Reader Pro. One student who did not make any DIBELS gains made excellent gains in AceReader. Thirty students in the study made gains in words-per-minute from the December to the April testing. The mean (average) rate of growth was 13 words per minute. Twelve students made gains in the single digits from 2 to 7, the rest made gains from 10 to 39 words per minute.

AceReader Pro:

Today students have access to what amounts to almost an overload of screen-based information from Web sites and even from CD-Roms or DVDs. They zip from one site to another with lightning speed, but still need to transfer this information from the screen to their brains as reading. Teachers need to teach how to use electronic text.

AceReader Pro utilizes two modes: (1) Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) and (2) Tachistoscope Scroll Presentation (TSP). In RSVP mode, text is displayed in the center of the text area. Students read faster than normal because their eyes do not need to scan. In RSVP mode, the words come to their eyes instead of their eyes going to the words. In TSP mode, text is displayed in a manner that forces their eyes to move just as they do in normal reading. Using TSP mode can teach students to read in a normal fashion and at higher speeds. Both modes help students learn to absorb multiple words.

AceReader helps students become more proficient by:

(1) Reducing Subvocalization, which means pronouncing or saying the words mentally as one reads. This slows down reading rate because one can subvocalize only about as fast as one can talk. The program pushes users to read at higher speeds through pacing techniques. At these higher speeds, it is physically impossible to subvocalize.

(2) Eliminating Regression, which means allowing one’s eyes to wander back to re-read text.

The program will display or highlight words in a manner that encourages forward-only eye movement. In non-highlight modes, it presents words without the surrounding text being shown at all. This promotes forward-only eye movement since there is no previous text visible.

(3) Reducing Eye Fixation Time

Reducing the time spent when one’s eyes are focused on a single point.

(4) Expanding Eye Fixation Zone

Improving one’s ability to read a wider text width than when one’s eyes are focused on a single point.

(5) Increasing Re-Fixation Speed

Improving one’s ability to reposition the eyes at a rapid rate.

Students quickly learned to log on to AceReader Pro, where each had a profile. They quickly established their routine for daily drills.

In this study the AceReader Pro was used as a fluency program. The program is designed with a daily comprehension test, at specific reading levels, and a set of drills. The drills contain a

  • warm-up of approximately three minutes,
  • a push to double speed practice using the time from the comprehension test of approximately three minutes and the final
  • eye-robotics as a closing activity of about two minutes.

Once trained in this routine, students were comfortable and independent. There is little or no need for teacher involvement, other than simply being present. The program is technologically simple to administer for fluency practice; even for the technologically-challenged, this is an extremely easy program.

The Results:

The DIBELS scores are rather typical of a regular education classroom. There are some astonishing readers, those children who say they love to read. Their reading scores are at the mid ninth-grade reading fluency level. I predicted they would make few gains in the AceReader Pro as they were already well above their expected reading levels. Therefore I focused on making AceReader Pro a “productivity tool”; getting them to manipulate the electronic text for reading purposes.

We put the AceReader Pro results in an Excel document for each student and from this created a chart. From that chart we established a trend-line. The seven highest scores in the DIBELS, 143 to 213 made gains in their silent reading, with a trend-line average of +3.19.

The nine middle levels students with DIBELS scores of 121 to 129 oral words per minute scored from -1 to 3 in trend-line scores with the mean being +1.19. These were gains over all, with only 3 of the 9 losing ground on the trend-lines. These readers are in the top middle of the reading programs. They made modest improvements over all.

The eight students who scored from 112 to 116 on the DIBELS made the mean score of +2.99 on the trend-line scores. These students were reading at the level that would be considered low risk for a mid-year fifth-grader. Only one of the students in this group did not make gains. This solid middle group made excellent gains. They enjoyed the reading via computers and tried any of the strategies I suggested.

This was the most frustrating of all the groups for me because of my background as a reading teacher for students with LD/ED. Of the ten lowest readers on the DIBELS, from 51 to 107, seven made gains. Three students scored a -1.5, -1.29, and -0.85. Clearly these students needed much more intervention than twice weekly. They may have done better with more time; even after four weeks of computer lab they needed assistance logging on, getting to the program and starting. One low-scoring reader got glasses during the research and this helped her with her reading. Two students made excellent gains; one scoring 73 on the DIBELS and the other 87; they made gains of 4.8 and 2.8 on the trend-lines. Three weeks into the study both students began medication and were then able to go into the lab and work without distraction. They needed more individual attention, but this was difficult to provide in a group of 17 ten-year-olds in a computer lab. They needed much more encouragement than I was able to provide. Most worrisome was the fact they needed more sessions per week to make a dent in their scores.


  1. Doing more with this program and moving it from Phase One, Print Automation (behavioral-based branching software relying on drill and practice to teach segmented content and/or skills) to Phase Two, Expansion of Learning Activities (computers as tools for learner-centered practices) was one of the most rewarding parts of this research. Not only was expanding what was expected very easy technologically, there were many more activities I could have done.
  2. Most students made gains, some more than others. However, all appeared to enjoy the time in the computer lab.
  3. When left without academic routines in computer lab, students, even the gifted students, will play any games available on the computer. With well practiced routines they got right to the task and generally did not get off task until it was done.
  4. Students looked at their scores daily and appeared to care how they did. I would have kept a weekly average of their WPM scores in a notebook had this been my personal classroom.
  5. Students are very comfortable with reading from a computer screen, whether it be reading text in a traditional paragraph or text which flashes one word at a time.
  6. Some students were so variable; they did well one day and not well the next. If this was an every day opportunity would the scores be less variable? Practice makes perfect and is two times a week enough to have consistency?

The need for real “classroom” research continues. With programs like Ace Reader Pro, teachers could encourage students to be their own data collectors.

Email:JoEllen Waddell