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Examining the results of a brief experimental analysis and reading fluency intervention with a middle school student.



Reading difficulty is one of the most significant problems facing students today. Reading underlies the ability to perform in most other academic domains and school adjustment (The 2000 report from the National Reading Panel outlined five primary reading skills, as well as the appropriate empirically based interventions for those skills. They are phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary instruction, reading fluency, and text comprehension strategies (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Phonemic awareness generally refers to the concept that words are made up of separate sounds that are blended together when spoken. It is one of the key components in learning to read in a language based on an alphabet, and has been shown to predict how well a child will learn to read (Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1994). Phonics, on the other hand, refers to a set of rules that specifies the relationship between letters in the spelling of words, and it serves to help readers spell and decode unfamiliar words easily (Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, Schatschneider, & Mehta, 1998). Vocabulary, or words we need to know in order to communicate with others, plays an important role in both word recognition and comprehension, and is therefore essential to reading to learn (Nagy & Scott, 2000). Fluency, defined as the ability to read quickly and accurately, is often viewed as the culmination of other skills and the prerequisite for comprehension. Comprehension involves the ability to construct meaning from what is read, and is the ultimate goal of reading instruction (Block & Pressley, 2002).

Despite the efforts of the National Reading Panel to redefine the pillars of reading instruction and promote effective methods of teaching each component, the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicated that 36 percent of fourth grader sand 27 percent of eighth graders were still unable to read well enough to understand important instructional components. Data from subsequent years revealed similar findings (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Reports from the National Assessment and National Reading Panel are alarming. These figures are alarming given that the older and farther behind a student becomes, the more difficult it is for them to catch back up or benefit from intervention (Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Scammacca, 2008).

Reading and Older Students

Although much research has been conducted on the reading interventions with elementary age populations, there is a relative lack of information available regarding such practices with struggling older readers. Older students who struggle with reading typically possess a unique set of problems. For example, older students with reading problems have typically been experiencing these difficulties for many years. As such, they have a long learning history regarding methods to cope with their reading problems and may have lost hope or interest in improving their reading skills (Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Scammacca, 2008). In addition, students with long histories of reading problems tend to have pervasive academic difficulties due to the verbal nature of school-based instruction. As students become older, the ability to perform well across subjects becomes increasingly dependent upon their ability to read and understand text, putting students with longstanding reading difficulties at a unique disadvantage.

According to findings from the Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Scammacca (2008), due to the unique characteristics of older struggling readers, they benefit from interventions directed at both the word and the text level. At the word level, word study interventions are often important for older children because they often struggle with decoding multi-syllabic words, dividing words into parts, and using word analysis methods to identify unknown words. Word study interventions have been shown to improve the outcome of struggling older readers by teaching them flexibility in decoding. At the text level, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension based interventions are often necessary to teach older readers to read text quickly, accurately, and with understanding of the words.

Finally, it is important to note that as struggling readers become older and reading becomes increasingly more difficult, their motivation to read decreases. Without motivation to read, opportunities to build vocabulary, improve comprehension and fluency, and develop effective reading strategies become limited. As such, interventions for older struggling readers have been shown to benefit from motivational components (Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Scammacca, 2008). Motivation and engagement make reading more enjoyable and increase strategy use during reading (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). In fact, Guthrie & Wigfield have shown that motivated students typically desire to understand the text completely leading to deeper information processing. This is because the comprehension of text involves effortful, conscious application of reading strategies, and unmotivated students are less likely to engage in such effort.


Research has shown that fluent older readers typically read from 120 to 170 words correct per minute, depending on the nature and difficulty of the text (Tindal, Hasbrouk, & Jones, 2005). The importance of reading fluency, or the ability to read both quickly and accurately, has been demonstrated in the literature as early as 1969 (Clay 1969; Clay & Imlack, 1971; Samuels, 1979). Logan (1997) reported that ability to read from text is a complex process that requires a number of skills including decoding individual words and acquiring meaning from sentences, paragraphs, and the text as a whole. Failure at any one of these levels can lead to reading fluency deficits.

Therrien (2004) points out that reading fluency difficulties are proposed to stem from two different sources in the literature. According to LaBerge & Samuels (1974, as cited in Therrien, 2004), reading fluency deficits result from poor decoding skills. Students with poor decoding ability spend a great deal of their cognitive resources attempting to decode the word, leaving little for comprehension. On the other hand, Schreiber (1980, as cited in Therrien, 2004), proposed that reading fluency problems stem from difficulty inferring the prosodic cues in text, which leads to an inability to break text down into meaningful phrases and difficulty comprehending meaning. More recently, studies have shown that struggling readers may display both deficits (Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2003).

Reading Interventions

A great deal of research has been focused on interventions that improve the fluency of struggling readers. Several interventions have shown promise including repeated reading, immediate corrective feedback, and listening passage preview.

Repeated Reading.

Repeated reading is an evidenced based reading intervention aimed at improving a student's reading fluency (Therrien, 2004). A number of studies have investigated the effects of repeated reading on fluency (Meyer and Felton, 1999; National Institute, 2000). A meta-analysis conducted by Therrien (2004) indicates that the mean effect size of repeated reading on fluency was .83 (SE = .07), which represents a strong effect and indicates that repeated reading is indeed an effective intervention for improving reading fluency. Furthermore, repeated reading was an effective method for increasing fluency for students with learning disabilities, ES = .75, SE = .09. Notably, the effect size for repeated readings on fluency varied depending on the number of times students were instructed to read the passage. For students repeating the passage two, three, and four times, effect sizes were .57 (SE = .14), .85 (SE = .09); and .95 (SE = .15). This would suggest that students who receive either three or four repetitions stand to see the greatest gains in fluency.

Immediate Corrective Feedback.

Immediate Corrective Feedback involves correctly mistakes in reading immediately as they happen (Therrien, 2004). Research suggests that immediate corrective feedback is an effective method of increasing word recognition and fluency skills (DiStefano et. al, 1981; Pany and McCoy, 1988). As such, it is often employed in repeated reading interventions in order to both prevent the reader from practicing incorrectly across the trials and to provide the reader a cue from which to modify their reading behavior. Therrien (2004) reported a mean effect size of 1.37 (SE = .18) for repeated reading interventions including an immediate corrective feedback component. Therrien (2004) found that when adults provide a repeated reading intervention that includes an immediate corrective feedback component, the effect size is approximately 1.37 (SE =.18).

Listening Passage Preview.

Listening Passage Preview (LPP) is an intervention in which students follow along as a more skilled reader reads a passage (Begeny, Krouse, Ross, & Mitchell, 2009). Daly and Martens (1994) and Skinner and colleagues (1997), among others, have demonstrated the effectiveness of LPP to increase oral reading fluency.

Brief Experimental Analysis (BEA)

School based interventions must be as time efficient as possible. As such, a recent trend in academic intervention has been to utilize the method of brief experimental analysis (BEA) in order to select intervention components. This method allows for the direct comparison of two or more interventions in quick, efficient manner (Jones, Wickstrom, & Daly, 2008; McComas, Wagner, Chaffin, Holton, McDeonnel, & Monn, 2009). This method is desirable as it allows the interventionist to essentially "test drive" intervention techniques and avoid implementation of ineffective techniques (Witt, Daly, and Noell, 2000). The goal of BEA is to increase student success by selecting an intervention for implementation based on data to suggest effectiveness with a particular student. Performance within individuals and between procedures is used to identify the most effective intervention component(s).


Participant and Setting

The participant was a 14 year old, African American male named Eddie who was enrolled in a middle school self-contained classroom in a rural school district in the Southeastern United States with access to the general education curriculum less than 20% of the day. Eddie had special education eligibility rulings of intellectual disability and language/speech. According to school records, Eddie was enrolled in the 7th grade, having been retained once, and was reading on a 1.6 grade level. At the time of referral, Eddie did not have a history of excessive absences or office disciplinary referrals; however, teacher-student relational problems were reported. All intervention procedures were conducted one-on-one by a trained school psychology graduate student in a quiet location in the student's middle school.

Materials and Dependent Variables

Oral reading fluency passages developed by DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) were used throughout baseline and intervention. Since the school district used a different set of progress monitoring and intervention tools, Eddie had no prior access to any of the intervention materials. Third grade passages were selected so that reading materials were slightly above the student's current reading level. Words correct per minute (WCPM) and errors per minute (EPM) were collected as the dependent variables across all reading trials. WCPM served as an indicator of oral reading fluency. Standard curriculum based measurement (CBM) procedures as outlined by Shinn 0989) were utilized throughout intervention. WCPM and EPM were calculated by dividing the number of words correct by the total time read and then multiplying the result by 60.

Problem Identification

Eddie's self-contained teacher referred him for individual reading intervention due to a lack of progress in reading. According to the teacher, Eddie had not progressed in his reading abilities since approximately 4th or 5th grade, despite a history of intervention attempts and self-contained instruction. The teacher reported that Eddie did not enjoy reading and often refused to read aloud in class, stating that the material was baby work. She reported that, when Eddie did read aloud, he often mumbled and displayed significant difficulty sounding out multi-syllable words. Eddie would often substitute or omit words, making a number of errors when reading. The teacher reported a history of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

Problem Analysis

Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA).

In order to obtain a better understanding of Eddie's reading ability, a curriculum based assessment was conducted. Since Eddie was reported to function on a 1.6 grade level at the end of the prior school year, he was started on second grade probes using the Fuchs and Deno (1991) criteria for scoring. Results of the CBA suggested that the student was at mastery for first grade material, but failed to meet instructional level for either second or third grade material due to high errors.


Performance on the second grade and third grade probes, however, were comparable. In order to investigate this further, Eddie was given three probes from each second and third grade material. Results of this data is displayed in Figure 1. Results suggested that Eddie's performance on second and third grade material were comparable, with a high number of errors on both. Therefore, due to Eddie's reported frustration with the content of the material he had been reading in class, third grade passages were selected so that reading materials were slightly above the student's current reading level and more interesting to read. Using probes that are slightly above the reading level of a student is a practice that is documented in the literature for reading fluency interventions (Begeny & Silber, 2006).

Brief experimental analysis (BEA).

In order to gain a better understanding of what interventions were likely to benefit Eddie's fluency problems, a BEA was conducted. Components of the BEA included repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback, listening passage preview, goal setting, motivation, and Elkonin cards. The repeated reading and listening passage preview conditions were chosen due to the amount of research backing their use for fluency difficulties. The motivation condition was designed to assess the student's ability versus willingness to perform well in reading. Goal setting was chosen, as it is one of the least intrusive intervention methods. Finally, Elkonin cards were chosen in order to address the teacher's concerns regarding the student's ability to decode words. Each condition of the BEA was conducted twice, in random order, in order to verify the results. Results of the BEA are displayed in Figure 1. The repeated reading and motivation conditions were found to produce the greatest change in WCPM and EPM scores over baseline. Therefore, these two interventions were selected to be utilized in conjunction.

Plan Implementation

Phase one.

In order to address Eddie's reading fluency difficulties, phase one of the intervention included repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback and motivation methods. Specifically, during each session, Eddie completed one-minute readings of three separate passages three times each. As Eddie read, the interventionist provided immediate corrective feedback for errors. At the end of each reading, WCPM and EPM were calculated and reported to the student. Eddie's best score out of the three readings was recorded.

In order to address student motivation, a token economy system was imposed. Eddie was awarded one point for each instance he beat his prior score, scored over 80 WCPM on a passage, and worked hard to sound out words. When Eddie earned 20 points, he was allowed to select a reward from the list of reinforcers that he and the interventionist created prior to implementation. Additionally, in order to keep Eddie motivated throughout each intervention session, he was offered gummy bears at the end of the session for working hard throughout.

Phase two.

After three sessions of intervention, Eddie's response to intervention was deemed to be low. Therefore, a change in intervention was made. Prior intervention sessions involved the student reading for one-minute. Eddie did display some anxiety over being timed and seemed to pressure his speech in order to beat the clock, which resulted in making increased errors. In order to combat this issue, the reading trials were switched from one-minute trials, to unlimited time trials. In the unlimited time trials, Eddie was told to read a passage, and the amount of time it took to read the passage was timed.

Phase three.

Over the course of twelve sessions during phase two, Eddie's WCPM and EPM scores became increasingly variable. An error analysis revealed that Eddie's performance was often linked to the content of the passages. For example, when passages were about mundane, daily activities or events (i.e., how to make strawberry jam), he performed rather well; however, when the passages were about more targeted subjects (i.e., the Lakota Sioux), performance was considerably worse. This pattern of errors could be linked to the student's ability to decode the subject specific words provided in the more targeted probes. In order to address the student's decoding problems, the intervention added a component of phonological awareness. Before each intervention session, Eddie reviewed flashcards of various phonics sounds. Furthermore, after each reading trial, Eddie was instructed to sound out each of the words that he had missed in that trial.

Phase four--withdrawal.

A withdrawal phase was conducted at session 50. Eddie had been on Thanksgiving break for a week and had not been receiving any type of reading intervention during that time. A cold probe on third grade material using the unlimited time method was conducted and WCPM and EPM were recorded.

Phase five.

After the withdrawal phase, the intervention including the repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback and unlimited time plus phonics and phonemic awareness training was reinstated and carried out for six more sessions. No changes in intervention were made.

Interscorer agreement.

Due to the high number of probes generated and a lack of resources for trained individuals to assist with intervention, interscorer agreement was calculated for 25% of the probes. Interscorer agreement was calculated by dividing the number of agreements on words and errors correct per minute by the total number of agreements plus disagreements and multiplied by 100% (M = 93%, range = 91.4%-100%).

Treatment integrity.

Due to lack of resources available at the school, direct observations of treatment integrity were not possible. The interventionist, however, did use a self-report integrity checklist in order to ensure that each step of the intervention was completed appropriately. Although not ideal, research has shown self-report measures to be effective at increasing the intervention integrity (Plavnick, Ferreri, & Maupin, 2010).


Data for WCPM and EPM were graphed (See Figure 1), and visual analysis of the graphs was used for interpretation purposes. Descriptive statistics (i.e., means and effect sizes) as well as Percentages of Non-overlapping Data points (PND) relative to baseline (Scruggs, Mastropieri, & Castro, 1987) were used to analyze the results.

During baseline on the third grade material, Eddie obtained a mean of 61 (range 57-67) WCPM and 5 EPM (range 4-6). The one-minute trial condition produced an immediate increase in level for WCPM and decrease in level for EPM; however, a rapid downward trend in WCPM was observed after only one session, with Eddie obtaining a mean of 71 (range 61-85) WCPM and 3 EPM (range 2-3) for the condition. The PND score for the one-minute condition was 17%, suggesting an ineffective intervention.

Upon implementing the unlimited time condition, there was an immediate increase in level but variable downward trend in WCPM to below baseline levels until session 28 when a rapid reverse in trend was evident (M = 72, range 55-88). EPM across the condition were variable throughout (M = 2, range 0-7). PND was calculated to be 53%, suggesting a questionably effective intervention.

The unlimited trial repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback plus phonics/ phonemic awareness condition produced a gradual increase in level with a variable upward trend until session 41. After session 41, however, an immediate decrease in level and rapid downward trend were evident. Eddie's mean WCPM for this condition was 80 (range 63-109). EPM during this condition were initially high and variable, but after session 40, they leveled out and remained consistent throughout the remainder of the condition (M = 2, range 0-6). PND calculations for this condition were 71%, suggesting a marginally effective intervention.

During withdrawal, Eddie's WCPM decreased to 45 with 7 EPM, indicating a significant drop in WCPM level and increase in EPM level from the unlimited time condition. Reimplementation of the intervention elicited a gradual increase in level and variable trend for WCPM. Eddie's mean WCPM score during the final condition was 73 (range 59-84). EPM during this condition remained low and consistent (M = .5, range 0-1). PND was 56% for this condition suggesting questionable intervention effect.


Overall, these finding suggest that the unlimited time repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback plus phonics/phonemic awareness was the most effective intervention for improving fluency for Eddie. This intervention produced the highest PND and mean WCPM scores and the lowest mean EPM scores, relative to baseline. Additionally, the significant drop in WCPM and EPM during withdrawal suggests that the multi-component intervention was at least moderately effective at improving the student's reading fluency. These findings are consistent with the literature that suggests that older students with reading difficulties benefit most from interventions that address multiple components (Roberts, Torgesen, Boardman, & Scammacca, 2008).

Although the PND score for the unlimited time repeated reading with immediate corrective feedback plus phonics/phonemic awareness intervention suggested a marginally effective intervention, and withdrawal data suggested that the intervention was more effective than no intervention, the intervention was ineffective at increasing Eddie's instructional level or decreasing variability within data at the third grade level. This would suggest that functionally, in terms of school performance, the intervention produced no effect on Eddie's reading fluency. This is concerning considering the empirical evidence for the intervention components and the student's history of lack of response to intervention. As such, other factors must be considered.

First, data were highly variable across all conditions. This is consistent with the teacher report of variability in reading, and also with literature that suggests that motivation may play a large part in the ability of older students who struggle with reading. Second, although motivational strategies were continually evaluated for saliency throughout the intervention, issues with motivation were still apparent. Some days the student was enthusiastic and worked very hard, and on other days he complained about reading and put forth less effort. Last, in addition to motivational issues, student-teacher interaction difficulties persisted throughout the intervention. These interactional problems may have had a significant impact on the intervention variability, as the student's mood and affect, and therefore motivation, were often dependent upon the type of day he had in the classroom prior to session.

As a result of the confounding variables mentioned above, data should be evaluated with caution, and inferences about the effectiveness of the intervention on Eddie's should be made in light of those factors. One recommendation to control for some of the extraneous variation would be to administer a short questionnaire to Eddie prior to each intervention session in order to evaluate his motivation, mood, and affect for the day. Although this may not change his performance on the measures, it will provide the interventionist with data regarding the potential source of the student's variability.


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Amity Lewis-Lancaster

Carmen Reisener, PH.D.

Mississippi State University
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Author:Lewis-Lancaster, Amity; Reisener, Carmen
Publication:Reading Improvement
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Date:Dec 22, 2013
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