Fluency is more than Rate

As we are getting closer to the start of the new school year for most educators, (I teach in a year-round building) I am thinking about the many types of Universal screeners that focus on the fluency component of rate. From Dibbles, and Aimsweb, to Fastbridge’s CBM’s. Fluency was once an unknown component of reading and has become a well-known component. Or has it? Maybe reading rate has become well known, not all the components of fluency. We are now experts with one-minute assessments. Some test nonsense words, decodable words, and others words correct per minute using a grade level text. As indicators they suggest that if decoding is going along somewhat automatically and effortlessly, then the possibility for cognitive attention to be placed on comprehension is more likely to occur. Anyone who has ever taught reading understands that good decoding makes comprehension more likely to occur. I do not dispute that.

We must remember however that these Universal screening assessments are progress monitoring assessments. They are not diagnostic assessments. They focus on one aspect of fluency instruction, designed to identify students who may need more testing and a reading intervention. This further testing and observing of the student should be the diagnostic piece. We should not place a student in an intervention based on them being a slower reader on a Universal screening tool where he reads a grade-level test for one minute. Yes, rate is a good indicator of whether a reader can decode with ease. It is also strongly influenced by vocabulary and comprehension of the text which is influenced by a student’s background knowledge.

As Jay Samuels once said, fluency without comprehension is not fluency. Our end goal for fluency should be comprehension and motivation. A more comprehensive view of a fluent reader is being obscured when too much attention is being placed on rate. S

I wonder what these one-minute reading sprints are teaching our students about stamina. Our young people are already being immersed in all kinds of small chunks, of this and that through many media sources. We cannot also get caught up in this type of reading sprint too heavily when our end game needs to be about stamina, comprehension, and motivation to read. Some vilify these types of tests. It is not the tests themselves that are at issue, however. It is how they are being chosen to be used. Used appropriately they have their place.

I wonder if oral reading rates decrease when reading texts for longer periods of time? I wonder how they fluctuate with different genres, types of texts, and difficulty levels?  I wonder if enough attention is being given to help readers transition from oral readers to silent readers who know how to process a text in their heads. Can they transition through multiple chapters of a book and through many characters and perspectives?

Remember these words from Richard Allington, “students need to understand that they can and must take active, intentional control of the elements of fluency-accuracy, rate, and expression-to the end of comprehending what they read to become truly fluent readers.”

I would add cognitive processes and their motivation to that list, wouldn’t you?

Remember fluency is more than rate.



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