In his always interesting blog, Shanahan on Literacy, Dr. Timothy Shanhan discusses the use of Correct Words Per Minute measures of student reading. He makes clear the relationships between reading fluency, decoding, and comprehension. Shanahan-on-Literacy-blogThis succinct article also covers linkages to eye-voice span and proper expression or prosody.

He notes, “The problem here is that we’re using speed, but we’re not interested in speed. We’re only using speed to draw an inference about how easily the reader is decoding.” He addresses the complex interrelationship of these reading proficiency indicators this way, “I have no real problem with using words correct per minute as a measure of fluency. But encouraging kids to read as fast as they can is not appropriate test preparation. And, great words correct per minute with lousy prosody is not fluent.”

Interesting Connections to Readability Research

Readability Matters appreciates the “Yes, but…” approach Dr. Shanahan uses to address the question.  We have measured children reading with formats better matched to their unique visual processing exhibit improvements in both speed and prosody. Further, they have been shown to improve comprehension. As noted by some of the researchers studying adult readers (Wallace et al.) when readers are interested in the content, they may tend to read more slowly. Speed as an indicator of decoding is a valuable tool. However, all of this suggests that many factors must be considered in looking at the overall proficiency of an individual reader.

Gaining reading speed with equal or better comprehension is beneficial for adults trying to process more information, as well as for students of any age.

Read the full article here.


About: Dr. Timothy Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago
Timothy Shanahan is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chi­cago where he was Founding Di­rector of the UIC Center for Literacy. Previously, he was director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools. He is author/editor of more than 200 publications on literacy education. His research emphasizes the connections between reading and writing, literacy in the disciplines, and improvement of reading achievement.

Tim is past president of the International Literacy Association. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of the National Institute for Literacy under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and he helped lead the National Reading Panel, convened at the request of Congress to evaluate research on the teaching reading, a major influence on reading education. He chaired two other federal research review panels: the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth, and the National Early Literacy Panel, and helped write the Common Core State Standards.

He was inducted to the Reading Hall of Fame in 2007, and is a former first-grade teacher.