Readability Matters works to shift reading outcomes for adults and children, making them the best readers they can be. Our research shows that when someone can tune their text, or tweak how words appear on a screen, their reading fluency can surge 20 – 40% or higher. Maximizing an individual’s reading proficiency can have an immediate impact in school, the workplace, and in life.
Just over one-third of the United States reads at a proficient level, according to the US Department of Education. The unfortunate trend begins when children are learning to read; the relative patterns are set by the 4th grade. If the student does not read well by 4th grade, he or she is not likely to read well in the 8th, in 12th, and throughout life. Tuned text offers the opportunity to shift this trend, adding an important enhancement to the educator’s instruction.
Tune Your Text with Readability Features
Reading fluency is defined as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. In order to understand what they read, readers must be able to read fluently whether they are reading aloud or silently. When reading aloud, fluent readers read in phrases and add intonation appropriately. (ReadingRocket.com) Fluency is measured as words correct per minute (WCPM) read.
Fluency is the bridge to comprehension. Improved fluency allows the reader to focus less on decoding and more on comprehending the material, increasing their capacity for learning.
When individuals read with their best format, reading fluency immediately improves. This is the same for both children and adults.
Today, technology can support maximizing the potential of the reader to comprehend quickly and accurately. Readers need the ability to control the following Readability Features: font, character shape, size, character width, character spacing, and line spacing.
2015 Breakthrough Study Results
Readability Matters used Microsoft Word to adjust Readability Features and tested 3rd grade students with five formats on paper.
Positive results were generated for 95% of the students with an average fluency gain of 28%. Interestingly, several students reading above grade level had above average gains.
These word processor generated formats are impactful but not scalable. Readability Matters’ strategy is to push for technology solutions, creating the scalability required for widespread use of tuned text.
2018 Readability Features Proof of Concept Study Results
Readability Matters approached a tech partner, Adobe, to implement Readability Features in their reading software. Added Readability Features allow the reader to control font, size, line spacing, character spacing, and character width. The students read five different text formats on an iPad. Both classes were above average readers, with national reading scores averaging 74th percentile for the 3rd grade and 75th percentile for the 7th grade.
Consistent with the previous word processor and paper-based studies, significant numbers of the 3rd and 7th grade students performed best using text formats modified with Readability Features. This initial implementation proved technological implementation was possible. Applying finer adjustment capability to the readability features will make further increases in reading yields possible. The results demonstrate that use of Readability Features can immediately impact proficiency.
Only 12% of the students read best with the control font, Times New Roman. The option to read with a clean round font, (Avenir in this study), was the only Readability Feature required to maximize the reading of 48% of the students. Additional character spacing and character expansion improved the reading proficiency of 39% of the students.
When reading with a better format, the student performance shifted immediately. 88% of the students experienced an immediate reading fluency gain with an average increase of 17%. Again, increasing the granularity of the readability adjustments available will make further increases possible.
Teachers use the Hasbrouck-Tindal Oral Reading Fluency benchmarks to assess the reading progress of their students. The average expected oral reading fluency improvement during 3rd grade is about 36 words correct per minute (WCPM). In this test, students demonstrated an average improvement of 23 WCPM, delivering much of that expected annual growth. One student increased 43 WCPM, exceeding that benchmark.
|Highlight: 77th Percentile Reader
||Highlight: 23rd Percentile Reader
While still prevalent, using oral reading tests to assess fluency becomes more challenging as children get older. Children recognize that they need to add expression, which slows the fluency. Additionally, the ability to speak words quickly becomes a limiting factor for faster readers.
In the 7th grade study, 25% of the students read best with the control font, Times New Roman. The option to read with a clean round font, (Avenir in this study), maximized the reading of 22% of the students. Additional character spacing and character expansion improved the reading proficiency of 53% of the students.
When reading with a better format, the student performance shifted immediately. 75% of the students experienced an immediate reading fluency gain with an average increase of 8%. Building on an already large WCPM in the control passage, smaller gains are significant.
The Hasbrouck-Tindal average expected oral reading fluency improvement during 7th grade is about 22 WCPM. The 7th grade students demonstrated an average improvement of 15 WCPM, delivering 68% of that expected annual growth. One student increased 30 WCPM, exceeding that benchmark.
|Highlight: 48th Percentile Reader
||Highlight: 99thPercentile Reader
Change the Student’s Trajectory
Our research has consistently shown that small changes to text format have an immediate impact on reading fluency. In summary,
- There is no best format for all readers, personalization is required
- Children and adults benefit from the use of Readability Features
- Performance improvements occurred across all levels of readers
- Reading proficiency improvement is instantaneous
As discussed, an individual’s relative reading trajectory is established by 4th grade. Use of Readability Features to tune text creates the opportunity to shift readers to a new educational trajectory, adding capacity for learning.
The ability to read is a predictor of confidence and self-esteem. It influences friend and education track choices, which impact professional pursuits, income, and life experience.
Let’s start thinking about reading differently. Making it easier for children to acquire reading skills puts them on the path of life-long learning. Increasing reading performance in adults produces more life and career opportunities.
The implementation of tuned text requires the addition of (1) Readability Features and (2) the capability to track the “best reading format” in a profile for each reader. Several tech companies are now implementing these new Readability Features, creating opportunities for large-scale implementation. With their help, the Readability Matters community of education and research partners can conduct further short-term and longitudinal impact analysis.
Additionally, Readability Matters’ plans include developing tools to help determine an individual’s “best reading format,” evaluating additional Readability Features and developing implementation models.
Together we can do more. Let’s put the option for enhanced readability into the hands of children and adults who seek knowledge, learn in school, track trends, and enjoy reading.
© 2019 All rights reserved, Readability Matters (updated July 2019)