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Effects of systematic error correction and repeated readings on the reading accuracy and proficiency of second graders with disabilities.


This investigation used a multiple-baseline design to examine the effects of systematic error correction and of systematic error correction with repeated readings on the reading accuracy and fluency of four second-graders receiving special education services in a resource room. Three of the students were identified as having learning disabilities, and one student was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In the error correction condition, students received systematic feedback for each miscued word during oral reading. During the error correction plus repeated readings condition, the students participated in three one-minute timings of the reading passage following error correction procedures. Results during the error correction condition indicated that there was a minimal increase in the number of words read correctly per minute, however all four students reduced the number of reading errors per minute. When repeated readings were implemented in conjunction with the error correction procedures, evidence of a functional relationship was demonstrated for all four students in terms of their reading accuracy and proficiency.


On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). This legislation is based on four basic principles: increased accountability for results, more control at the local level, more options for parents, and an emphasis on proven teaching methods. In particular, the NCLB Act of 2001 sets a goal of every child reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade, and emphasizes the importance of reading programs that are consistent with "scientifically based reading research" to reach that goal (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).

Attaining the goal of on-grade reading performance may be especially difficult for children with learning disabilities because about 80 percent of such children have deficits in reading (Lerner, 1997). Even when compared to the reading performance of children who are low achieving but do not have disabilities, children with learning disabilities lag considerably behind (Fuchs, Fuchs, Yen, et al., 2001). Lacking decoding strategies, these children often read slowly and laboriously, and are overly dependent on context and pictures (Mastropieri, Scruggs, Bakken, & Whedon, 1996). Given these deficits in reading performance, it is especially important for teachers of children with learning disabilities to use methods that have been demonstrated to work.

Methods of teaching reading must not only be effective, but must also be perceived by teachers as feasible. After all, it is the teachers who will implement the method every day if the NCLB Act of 2001 goals are to be reached. Teacher perceptions of feasibility are important in that treatments or teaching techniques not acceptable to consumers (e.g., teachers) will very likely not be implemented (Abbot, Walton, Tapia, & Greenwood, 1999; Greenwood & Abbot, 2001). One factor that appears to influence teachers' perceptions of feasibility is how time-consuming the technique is (Bender, Vail, & Scott, 1995; Gajria, Salend, & Hemrick, 1994; Jayanthi, Epstein, Polloway, & Bursuck, 1996). Therefore, efficiency as well as effectiveness may be an important consideration in the selection of teaching techniques.

Two teaching techniques that meet the dual criteria of efficiency and effectiveness are systematic error correction strategies and repeated readings (Barbetta, Heron, & Heward, 1993; Barbetta, Heward, & Bradley, 1993; Barbetta, Heward, Bradley, & Miller, 1994; Mastropieri, Leinart, & Scruggs, 1999). With respect to error correction strategies, the effectiveness of these strategies was demonstrated by Barbetta and colleagues in a series of studies with primary-aged students with developmental disabilities. One of the factors found to influence student reading accuracy in a positive direction was requiring the student to repeat the correct word after the teacher provided it following reading errors (Barbetta, Heron, et al., 1993). The timing of teacher provision of the correct word also made a difference: immediate whole-word correction (teacher provision of the word, then student repetition of the correct word) was superior to delayed correction (teacher provision of the word at the end of the reading session, then student repeating the word) (Barbetta, et al., 1994). Finally, immediate whole-word correction was also superior to immediate provision of phonetic prompts (Barbetta, Heward, et al., 1993). In addition to the positive effects on reading accuracy, the error correction strategies described in the foregoing studies had an additional advantage in that little teaching time was required for the strategy itself.

While reading accurately is certainly important, reading fluently is also critical and therefore warrants more emphasis within reading programs (Richards, 2000). Examples of strategies for improving reading fluency include repeated readings, classwide peer tutoring, computer assisted instruction, and listening passage preview (see Mastropieri, et al., 1999). Of these strategies, we selected repeated readings as a strategy for this investigation because we believed it to be the simplest and least time-consuming to implement. This was an important factor in our study, since a student teacher would be delivering the intervention. Just as importantly, the method of repeated readings has been demonstrated to be at least as effective as other reading fluency strategies (Daly, Murdoch, Lillenstein, Webber, & Lentz, 2002; Mercer, Campbell, Miller, Mercer, & Lane, 2000; Vaughn et al., 2000).

As described in a classic article (Samuels, 1979), repeated readings involves requiring the student to read a passage several times within one reading session. Over successive readings, the student attempts to increase his reading rate. In a review of research examining the effectiveness of several strategies to increase fluency, using the repeated readings method resulted in gains in reading accuracy and rate for students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels (Mastropieri, et al., 1999). The repeated readings method may require more time to implement than the previously described error corrections strategies. Nonetheless, this method can be relatively efficient. For example, in a recent study of beginning readers with and without disabilities, the fluency intervention consisted of three 30-second trials for word lists and three 1-minute trials for passages (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, Lipsey, & Roberts, 2001). Despite the brevity of these sessions, students made significant gains in reading comprehension and fluency when repeated readings was combined with peer tutoring.

Although previous research has demonstrated the positive effects of the two teaching strategies, systematic error correction and repeated readings, researchers have not yet combined these two methods within one study. Further, the effectiveness of systematic error correction for primary-aged students with learning disabilities has not been examined. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to determine the effects of systematic error correction and systematic error correction with repeated readings on the reading accuracy and proficiency of primary-aged students with learning disabilities who attended a special education resource room for reading instruction.


Participants and Setting

Four second graders with disabilities, three boys and one girl, participated in this study. Three of the students were identified as having learning disabilities and one student was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. All four students attended a special education resource room for one to three periods per day, and attended a regular second grade classroom for the rest of the school day. Students' ages ranged between eight years two months and nine years six months, and reading standard scores ranged from 73 to 84 (see Table 1). These students, from a rural school district in Mississippi, were selected to participate because their special education teacher (a collaborative partner in this investigation) requested that we work specifically with this group for our research project. According to their special education teacher, the student participants functioned one to two years below their grade level in reading, and reading instruction was a priority for them.

The experimenters were two university faculty, a student teacher, and the special education teacher (who was also the student teacher's mentor teacher). Prior to implementing this study, the research team met to collaboratively design the experiment, and permission to conduct the study was obtained from the school district, from the university's Human Subjects Review Board, and then from parents. Thereafter, data were collected in the students' special education resource room during the last six weeks of the school year. The students met individually with the student teacher for six minutes each morning and, when school schedules permitted, once in the afternoon. These daily sessions took place during the periods the students had already been receiving reading and language arts instruction in the resource room. While the student teacher worked with individual students, the special education teacher (mentor teacher) worked with the rest of the students also attending the resource room during those periods.

Dependent Variables

Two dependent variables were measured in this study: the number of words read correctly in context per minute and number of errors per minute. At the end of a five-minute instructional period, the students were timed for one minute while the student teacher recorded each word as correct or incorrect. At the end of the one-minute timing, the student teacher recorded the total number of words read correctly and the total number of words read incorrectly. A word was counted as correct if the student independently pronounced the word correctly within three seconds without prompting from the student teacher. (The student teacher determined this 3-second wait time by silently counting off the seconds.) A word was counted as an error if it was pronounced incorrectly, miscued, omitted, or not stated within three seconds.

Interobserver Agreement and Procedural Reliability

Interobserver agreement (IOA) was assessed during 5 (15%) of the 33 experimental sessions. A second observer had a copy of the passage the student was reading, and independently marked each word the student read as correct and incorrect. Both the student teacher's copy of the reading passage and the second observer's copy of the reading passage were then examined to determine IOA. An agreement was counted if both the student teacher and the second observer marked the same word as correct or the same word as incorrect. A disagreement was counted if the second observer's markings (of words as correct or incorrect) differed from those of the student teacher. Interobserver agreement (IOA) was calculated by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements plus disagreements and multiplying by 100. Mean IOA for all four students was 100%.

Procedural reliability was assessed during six of the 33 experimental sessions by one or other of the two university faculty members. The university faculty member used a checklist to assess the student teacher's adherence to the experimental procedures. Across five of these observations, the student teacher implemented each step of the procedure correctly and in the correct sequence. During the sixth observation, she twice prompted the student to attempt a word again before supplying the correct word.

Reading Materials and Pre-Testing

The reading materials used in this investigation were the Rigby PM Collection[TM] reading series (Randell, Smith, & Giles, 1997). This basal series is divided into 30 controlled reading levels (K-5), with 10 books on each level. The lower level books are short with one to two five-word sentences on each page. As the level increases, the length of the sentences increase as well as the vocabulary difficulty. The levels are as follows: kindergarten 1-2; first grade, 3-16; second grade, 17-22; third grade, 23-25; fourth grade, 26-28; and fifth grade, 29-30. The student teacher assessed each student, following the guidelines of the Rigby PM Collection assessment instrument, to determine the level on which they were to begin. The assessment consisted of oral reading miscue analysis and comprehension questions. Based on the results of this assessment, Students 1 and 2 began the baseline condition with books from the 6th level, Student 3 from the 8th level, and Student 4 from the 9th level. Levels 6 through 9 fall in the pre-primer range.

We selected this reading series for the following reasons. The Rigby series was not used by the participating school district, and therefore the students had no additional exposure to that particular reading material during the investigation. If we had used a series familiar to the students, this would have resulted in a confounding variable. To control for practice effects, we wanted the students to begin a new story for each experimental session, so we needed several stories for this project. The Rigby series had more stories on each level than any of the other series we examined. Because we also wanted to control for differing use of picture clues to decode words, the student teacher retyped each of the stories (which included a picture on each page) in a similar font but without the pictures The students, therefore, were unable to use picture clues.

Experimental Design

A multiple-baseline across students design (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987) was used to examine the effects of systematic error correction, systematic error correction plus repeated readings, and error correction plus repeated readings with previously read material on the number of words students read correctly and the number of errors read per minute. The procedures for the experimental conditions were as follows:

Baseline. The student read a selected passage to the student teacher for five minutes. Each time the student made a reading error or miscue, the student teacher immediately told the student the correct word but the student was not required to repeat the word. After the five-minute reading period, the student teacher asked the student to re-read the passage from the beginning, and timed the student for one minute. The student teacher recorded words read correctly and the number of errors read per minute.

Systematic error correction. The student read the selected passage to the teacher for five minutes. Each time the student made an error, the student teacher stated the correct word, the student repeated the correct word, then reread the sentence. At the end of the five-minute reading period, the student teacher reviewed all the words the student had pronounced incorrectly by pointing to each word and asking the student to read it. If the student made an error during the review, the teacher stated the correct word and then required the student to repeat it. After systematic error correction, the student teacher asked the student to reread the passage. While the student reread the passage, the student teacher timed the student for one-minute and recorded the number of words read correctly and the number of errors read per minute. Each reading passage was too long for the students to complete in its entirety for the five-minute reading period, so there was no repetition of the story during systematic error correction.

Error correction plus repeated readings. The student teacher followed the same procedures used during the systematic error correction condition, with the following exceptions. Systematic error correction took place during the first three minutes of the session (instead of five minutes) and the student teacher then conducted three one-minute timings of the passage. Reducing the time for error correction to three minutes kept each experimental session consistent at six minutes. The decision to keep the time allotted to six minutes across all conditions controlled for the variable of time spent interacting with the reading material as a possible explanation for increased reading performance. For each one-minute timing, the student reread the passage from the beginning. During the last timed reading, the student teacher recorded the number of words read correctly and the number of errors read per minute.

Error Correction plus repeated readings with previously read materials. The reading materials in this series continued to become progressively more difficult. For this reason, the final condition of the study was to assess students on reading passages to which they were previously exposed. The procedures for this condition were the same for the error correction plus repeated readings condition, except that the reading passages used during the baseline condition were implemented.


Figure 1 shows the number of words read correctly per minute and the number of errors made per minute in all 33 sessions by each student across conditions. In general, the number of words read correctly per minute during the error correction condition was similar to baseline for all four students. Even though the error condition had little effect on correct words per minute, the average number of errors per minute decreased for all students during that condition. In the last two conditions, when repeated readings was implemented, the average reading rates for all four students improved substantially and the number of errors per minute decreased.

Looking at the mean number of words read correctly and incorrectly (errors) per minute by each student in each condition is also informative (see Table 2). Student 4 was the only student who substantially increased his mean reading rate in the error correction condition, but all four students made fewer errors per minute ranging from a mean of 1.64 (Student 1) to 3.38 (Student 2). When repeated readings was added to the error correction condition, the mean number of words read per minute ranged from 66.00 (Student 2) to 77.40 (Student 4). Student 4 made the greatest gains in the final condition with a mean of 81.00 words read correctly per minute and 0.75 errors per minute. This difference is substantial considering that the reading materials continued to become progressively more difficult. Throughout the duration of this investigation, students progressed from a pre-primer level to a primer level, and then to a first grade level as indicated by the level changes in the reading series.



This study investigated the effects of systematic error correction and error correction plus repeated readings on the reading accuracy and rate of primary-aged students with disabilities. These effects demonstrate a functional relationship, as all four students increased words read correctly per minute and reduced errors over the course of the study (see Figure 1). These gains are important given that the baseline reading rate of these second grade students indicated that they were one full year behind at the beginning of the study: their reading rate was in fact very similar to the rate that average readers reach by the end of first grade (Good, Simmons, & Smith, 1998). For the students in this study, gains in words read correctly were not apparent until the second condition, when repeated readings was implemented in conjunction with error correction procedures. In contrast, the results were somewhat mixed during the first condition (error correction alone): while errors per minute decreased for all students, there was little change in words read correctly per minute.

For three of the students, the increase during the error correction plus repeated readings condition over the previous condition ranged from means of 12.6 to 14.5 more words read correctly per minute. For Student 2, the increase was even more dramatic, as he correctly read an average of 24.6 more words per minute than he had in the previous condition. It is important to note that these increases were not accompanied by a markedly higher number of errors. In fact, the number of errors per minute was similar to that in the previous condition for three students and was somewhat lower for Student 1. In the final condition, error correction and repeated readings with previously read material, mean numbers of errors decreased while mean numbers of words read correctly per minute were similar to the previous condition.

We expected the reading rate to improve dramatically in the fourth condition when students worked with previously read material, however words read correctly per minute only increased slightly for Students 1, 3 and 4; and decreased slightly for Student 2. The possible explanations for this outcome relate to the timing of the fourth condition and the order in which we implemented the interventions. We implemented the fourth condition during the last week of the school year, and the impending summer vacation may have interfered with the students' motivation to engage in schoolwork. Another possible explanation is that we implemented the error correction procedure before the repeated readings procedures. By doing the procedures in this order, we may have inadvertently communicated to the students that accuracy was more important than fluency. The students may have focused more effort on accuracy, which may have slowed down their reading rate. Further research would be necessary to determine if changing the sequence of the interventions would have more impact on reading rate.

Given the absence of previous studies, the findings of the present study specific to error correction with repeated reading should be regarded as preliminary until replicated. However, with respect to the effect of error correction alone upon correct responses for students with learning disabilities, it can be said that the present findings stand in contrast to results from previous studies conducted with students with developmental disabilities. In previous studies, the use of similar error correction procedures showed increases in the number of correct responses for most (Barbetta, Heward, et al., 1993) or all (Barbetta, Heron, et al., 1993) of the students. However, the present and previous studies should be compared with caution, as some important differences may have influenced the results. Unlike the present study, dependent measures in previous studies did not include information regarding rate per minute for errors. This is an important difference, as error correction alone decreased the rate of errors in the present study even though little or no effect upon the rate of correct responses was observed. Further, the measures in those studies were of words read in isolation rather than during the presumably more difficult task, passage reading, in the present study.

With respect to the effects of repeated readings, the substantial gains in reading fluency for the students in the present study add support to previous studies (Fuchs, Fuchs, Yen, et al, 2001; Mastropieri, et al., 1999). No comparisons, however, can be drawn with respect to errors per minute, comprehension gains, or generalization to new passages. While errors per minute was a dependent measure in the present study, no such information is reported by either Mastropieri and colleagues in their review of previous studies, or by Fuchs and colleagues in their recent study. On the other hand, neither comprehension nor generalization was a variable in the present study. Thus, it is not known whether the students in the present study would have improved their reading comprehension or whether gains in fluency would have transferred to new passages.

Limitations. Several factors may have influenced the results in the present study and should be regarded as limitations. First, this study was of relatively short duration, six weeks at the end of the school year, and data collection was thus somewhat abbreviated. Data collection was also limited by school activities taking precedence over some of the afternoon experimental sessions we had planned. Another limitation is that no data were collected to determine whether comprehension improved and whether observed gains were maintained over time or generalized to other reading tasks. For example, it would have been useful to know whether student gains in reading proficiency generalized to other tasks such as reading in the content areas, or to other situations such as reading in the general education classroom. Procedural reliability data were also limited, as only six such checks were conducted. Finally, a limitation that may also influence the believability of findings is the limited number of IOA assessments; we were only able to assess interobserver agreement for 15% of the sessions due to scheduling constraints. Tape recording experimental sessions would have enabled us to conduct more IOA assessments and would have strengthened the validity of our findings.

With respect to possible influences on the data that were collected, the order in which conditions were implemented may have had an effect. Implementing the error correction only condition before error correction in conjunction with repeated readings may have placed an emphasis upon accuracy over fluency. That implicit emphasis may have carried over to the second and third conditions, thereby depressing gains in fluency. Second, greater gains in both accuracy and fluency may have accrued had a systematic motivational system been implemented. Third, while the vocabulary of reading materials used in this study were described by the publisher as controlled (Randell, et al., 1997), anecdotal evidence from data collectors suggests that the increase in difficulty across the passages used in this study was sometimes uneven. If so, unexpectedly difficult words would most certainly have limited gains in fluency and accuracy. Finally, previous researchers have suggested that error correction procedures such as the one used in the present study might be most appropriate for sight words (Barbetta, Heward, et al., 1993). In the present study, this error correction procedure was used for any and all words during passage reading; this may have limited the effectiveness of the procedure.

Implications for future research and practice. Certainly, more research is needed to corroborate and extend the findings in the present study. For example, researchers should examine the effects of error correction and repeated readings for children of various cultures, ages, and ability levels and from a broader geographic area. Further, future research should include collection of maintenance and generalization data. Also, any effect that error correction and repeated readings procedures may have on reading comprehension should be determined. Finally, researchers should test for order effects by varying the sequence of treatments and for differing results according to word type, such as sight words compared to vocabulary words.

Implications for classroom practice were particularly important to the researchers in the present study, as the purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of error correction and repeated readings within typical classroom constraints upon time and effort. Several such implications can be noted. First, the error correction procedure used in this study is straightforward and simple for teachers to use. Further, the procedure requires little if any additional time. Teachers most likely already make some kind of response to student errors; they then might simply replace their current response with the procedure used in this study. That was in fact the circumstance in this study: the experimental procedures were implemented during a time period already devoted to reading instruction. The use of repeated readings would require some additional time in individualized instructional sessions. However, the number of sessions each week and the duration of each session needed to be effective appear to be at manageable levels for teachers: in the current study, the substantial gains for student accuracy and fluency were the result of 6-minute sessions which typically occurred 5 or 6 times each week. At this point, we do not know how differing levels of session frequency and duration would affect results; this is an issue that further research may clarify for teachers.

In summary, the results of this study conducted with students with learning disabilities extend the findings from previous studies of the effectiveness of error correction procedures for students with developmental disabilities. In addition, the results provide evidence for the beneficial influence of error correction procedures upon students' error rates during reading of passages rather than words in isolation. Finally, the effectiveness of error correction combined with repeated readings was demonstrated. Thus, this study provides some of the information needed, as required in the No Child Left Behind Act, to guide school personnel in the selection of proven methods of teaching reading.
Table 1. Student Information.

Student Gender Age Ethnicity Achievement Standard Scores
 Decoding Comprehension

Student 1 Female 9-6 Caucasian 80 (a) 84 (a)
Student 2 (b) Male 8-10 Caucasian
Student 3 Male 8-3 Caucasian 83 (c) 82 (c)
Student 4 Male 8-2 Caucasian 84 (d) 73 (d)

Student Disability Time in
 Category Special

Student 1 LD 11 months
Student 2 (b) ADHD 12 months
Student 3 LD 6 months
Student 4 LD 16 months

Notes: a = Peabody Individual Achievement Test Revised.
b = Achievement test scores were unavailable for Daniel because he moved
and we no longer had access to his test records
c = Wechsler Individual Achievement Test
d = Woodcock Johnson Achievement Test

Table 2. Mean number of correct words per minute and errors per minute
in each condition for each student.

Student Baseline Systematic Error Systematic Error
 Correction Correction plus
 Repeated Readings
 Correct Errors Correct Errors Correct Errors

Student 1 56.00 4.25 54.36 1.64 67.00 0.82
Student 2 35.78 9.00 41.38 3.38 66.00 4.33
Student 3 57.38 5.38 55.13 2.25 69.60 3.40
Student 4 52.17 3.50 63.83 2.83 77.40 3.00
Group mean 50.33 5.53 53.68 2.53 70.00 2.89

Student EC + RR with
 Previously Read
 Correct Errors

Student 1 68.29 0.71
Student 2 64.80 2.80
Student 3 74.50 1.50
Student 4 81.00 0.75
Group mean 72.15 1.44


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Janet S. Nelson Sheila R. Alber and Alicia Gordy

The University of Southern Mississippi

Corresponding Author: Please address all correspondence to Janet S. Nelson, Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, The University of Southern Mississippi, Box 5115, Hattiesburg, MS 39406. Telephone: 601-266-5241 (office), 601-583-0260 (home), 601-266-4548 (fax), e-mail:
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Author:Nelson, Janet S.; Alber, Sheila R.; Gordy, Alicia
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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