More Readable Text Formats,
Reading Personalized for the Individual
Very subtle changes in text format can create meaningful changes in comprehension for readers (Dr. Susanne Nobles of ReadWorks at the Adobe for Education Summit). A novel 2021 reading study evaluated 250 K-8th grade students using text formats featuring varied character spacing and/or width. Great news! On average, students gained 20% in speed and accuracy of comprehension when their reading material was in a better format for them personally. No one of the five formats tested was best for all readers; reader variability matters. Personalization is required.
The pandemic has been a dramatic accelerant. The fast proliferation of technology, new investments in infrastructure, and an openness to new digital learning models all come together, creating a new world of possibility. The opportunity to read with Personalized Reading Formats can improve student outcomes. Better reading experiences create more equitable learning environments – a student reading more quickly, more accurately, and with better comprehension can learn more and expand their access to educational, career, and life opportunities.
Making Education More Accessible
Education and the reading required to achieve it have long been the basis for both economic stability and economic mobility. Yet, the US Department of Education continues to report high numbers of non-proficient readers of all ages in the United States. Is it possible that there are physiological reasons for this? Can a simple change to text format break the cycle, expand educational potential and create more economic opportunity?
Given the clear implication that students can learn and test with improved results when using a personalized reading format, it is time to call on tech and edTech providers to create more equitable learning environments. An average increase of 20% in the speed of accurate comprehension translates in a move from a D to a B, or a C to an A. And for those most impacted by text format, the percentages gained were even higher.
What might our students achieve with better reading? What would they do with more capacity for learning? How many more students might be willing to go further in the education system if reading experiences were improved? Would greater reading confidence generate more success?
Early in elementary school, educational trajectories are set. The effect these inequalities have on a student can be profound; they are not only academic but also social and emotional as well.
Personalized Reading Formats for More Equitable Learning and Assessment
Technology creates the opportunity to change the learning trajectory for many students at scale.
As we know, some text formats are more difficult for a student to read. If we do not provide the best format for an individual, we create a meaningful disadvantage for that student. A student that reads most effectively and efficiently with extra character spacing should not be tested without the extra character spacing.
Consider that the K-8 Readability Comprehension Study demonstrated a 20% average increase in comprehension when students read with their best text format. Some students increase more, as much as 50% faster. Improving the speed of comprehension is meaningful; not providing readable text formats is a barrier to performance while learning in the classroom or taking a test.
Consider Stephen; he reads 50% faster when moving from a standard textbook font to a cleaner rounder font with additional character spacing. Should Stephen have to take his test with the standard font? An assessment that slows his reading by 50% is inequitable, putting him at a significant disadvantage compared to a student that happens to read best with the standard font.
Tech and edTech are Letting us Down
In this time of expanding technology, we must not continue to allow the underuse of technology to create inequitable learning environments. Now more than ever before in history, the opportunity to instantaneously improve student outcomes with simple changes to text format is available. By leveraging and expanding existing reading platforms, this promising new approach can be affordable and quickly deployed.
As noted by Sal Khan at the ASU-GSV Summit, “Let’s not waste the crisis.” A tremendous opportunity has been created by the pandemic. Join Readability Matters in calling on tech and edTech providers to enable Personalized Reading Formats to reduce inequalities and improve student learning outcomes.