2012. Vol.3, No.1, 45-48
Published Online January 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 45
Unique Screener of Reading Fluency and Comprehension for
Adolescents and Adults
Sherry Mee Bell, Kelli Caldwell Miller, Ralph Steve McCallum, Michael Hopkins,
Angela Hilton-Prillhart
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA
Email: {sbell1, kcaldwe9, mccallum, mhopkin7, amounger}
Received October 5th, 2011; revised November 12th, 2011; accepted December 13th, 2011
Because there are few brief reading fluency screeners available for older adolescents and adults we de-
veloped one, then investigated its psychometric properties, obtained for 161 college students. Two ex-
perimental versions of this unique, silent, group-administered screener of reading fluency and compre-
hension require adolescents and adults either to read and identify ideas or words (i.e., word chaining)
within connected text of increasing difficulty. Both instruments and the Nelson-Denny Reading Test
(Brown, Fishco, & Hanna, 1993) were administered in counterbalanced order. Results indicate moder-
ately strong relationships (r values ranged from .52 to .63) between both versions of the screener and
Nelson-Denny comprehension and rate scores. These data provide preliminary evidence of validity for
these screeners for this population. The format requiring examinees to identify ideas produced slightly
higher correlations with Nelson-Denny comprehension scores than did the word chain format. Both may
be useful because they can be created from existing curriculum materials and are efficient (i.e., group ad-
ministered) and quick (requiring only 5 minutes).
Keywords: Reading; Assessment; Adolescent; Adult
The National Reading Panel (NRP) identified reading com-
prehension as the ultimate goal of reading (National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development, NICHD, 2000). How-
ever, because reading comprehension is difficult and time con-
suming to measure, researchers and educators often rely on
measures of reading fluency to make educational decisions, in
part because fluency is a precursor (and bridge) to reading
comprehension as well as a powerful predictor (NICHD, 2000;
Rasinski & Padak, 2004; Samuels, 2007). Given the relation-
ship between fluency and comprehension, assessments that are
influenced by comprehension but also sensitive to rate and
accuracy are potentially valuable. The purpose of this study is
to investigate the psychometric properties of a unique group-ad-
ministered reading screener for adolescents and adults that re-
quires examinees to identify ideas in connected text of increas-
ing difficulty: the Fluency and Comprehension Screener: Adults
and Adolescents Ideas (FACS:A Ideas; Bell & McCallum,
2010). A secondary purpose is to evaluate the relationship be-
tween an established measure of reading comprehension and
both the FACS: A Ideas format and an alternative format,
which requires examinees to identify words in connected text
(word chaining).
Efficient Screening of Reading Fluency and
Comprehension of Adolescents and Adults:
A Brief Review
Several fluency measures are currently available for use with
children (e.g., DIBELS, Good, & Kaminski, 2002; AIMSweb,
2007). However, these measures have been criticized because
they emphasize speed of word reading over comprehension
(Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, & Meisinger, 2010; Samuels, 2007)
and are time consuming to administer and score (Allington,
2009). To minimize time required for assessment, silent group-
administered measures of reading have been developed, for
example, the Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency (TOSWRF;
Mather, Hammill, Allen, & Roberts, 2004) and the Test of Si-
lent Contextual Reading Fluency (TOSCRF; Hammill, Wieder-
holt, & Allen, 2006). Both assessments require students to mark
between words, a word chaining technique, using unrelated
words (TOSWRF) or connected text (TOSCRF). In a study of
52 students ages 9 to 15 years, Bell, McCallum, Richardson,
Fuller and McCane (2007) found correlations of similar mag-
nitude between the TOSWRF (r = .30, p < .05) and TOSCRF (r
= .32, p < .05) with a measure of reading comprehension. Fur-
ther, they found that TOSCRF produced a higher correlation (r
= .58) with a measure of sight word recognition and a measure
of orthography (r = .41) than with comprehension (r = .32).
Though potentially useful as group screeners, these word
chaining measures may be only modestly related to compre-
hension and they are not normed for adults; upper age limit for
the TOSWRF is 17-11, for the TOSCRF, 18-11.
Other comprehensive achievement tests (e.g., Kaufman Tests
of Educational Achievement-II, Kaufman, & Kaufman, 2004:
Woodcock Johnson-III, McGrew, & Woodcock, 2001) include
measures of reading fluency that are normed for adults, but
many of these measures are individually administered and ex-
pensive. Still others are group-administered and brief, like the
Nelson-Denny Reading Test (Brown, Fishco, & Hanna, 1993)
but have other problems (e.g., dated norms, a rate measure
based on only one minute of silent reading).
Given the increase in students with learning disabilities in
college settings (Trainin & Swanson, 2005) and the large num-
ber of adolescents and adults who are not proficient readers of
English, there is a need for accurate and quick screeners.
Estimates of adults in the U.S. who lack basic literacy skills
range from 30 million (Kutner, Greenberg, & Baer, 2005) to
over 80 million (Albro, 2009). According to Wirt et al., 2002,
reading deficiencies are the biggest challenge that underpre-
pared students face in college; further, ACT reports that only
51% of high school graduates tested by ACT are prepared for
freshman courses (ACT, 2006). In 2004, approximately 40% of
freshmen entering U.S. year colleges were enrolled in at least
one developmental reading course (U.S. Department of Educa-
tion, 2004). Only 38% of high school seniors performed at or
above the Proficient level in reading on the National Assess-
ment of Educational Progress in 2009 (U.S. Department of
Education, 2009). Given the large number of young adults who
are underprepared in reading, a quick screener could provide
useful information for adult educators (Ziegler, McCallum, &
Bell, 2007), instructors and personnel in developmental reading
programs and in college and university disability service settings.
Because most currently available reading fluency measures
are time-consuming, emphasize reading speed over comprehen-
sion, and are inappropriate for adults, a quick screening tool to
gauge reading skills could be quite useful. Consequently, Au-
thors (2010) developed the FACS:A to meet this need and in
this manuscript report reliability and validity of the instrument.
Participants and Setti ng
Data were collected from 161 college students (126 females
[78.3%] and 35 males [21.7%]) enrolled in teacher education
courses at a large public university in the southeastern United
States. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 57 years (average
age = 25.69 years). Reported race of participants was: Cauca-
sian (91.9%), African American (3.7%), Asian/Pacific Islander
(1.2%), Native American (0.6%), and Other (0.6%), with 1.9%
not reported. All but two were native English speakers. Partici-
pants included seniors and first-year graduate students.
Fluency and Comprehension Screener: Adults (FACS:A).
Alternate response formats of FACS:A (Ideas and Words) were
administered. The FACS:A Ideas uses a unique technique that
requires slashing between words that end and begin a complete
idea while the format of FACS:A Words requires slashing be-
tween words embedded in authentic text (i.e., word chaining,
similar to the format of the TOSCRF). A complete idea is de-
fined essentially as a sentence; to avoid ambiguity, we include
dependent clauses but not compound sentences or independent
clauses. Examinees must read carefully to determine where an
idea ends or begins. In development each passage was read by
three graduate students with assessment background; agreement
on when ideas begin and end averaged 99%. Brief practice
passages are presented prior to the timed assessment. Each form
includes the same six passages, alternating expository and nar-
rative passages of increasing difficulty, ranging from 4.7 to
13.2 grade level (using the Flesch Kincaid readability formula
from Microsoft Word). Though readability formulae vary and
may not yield consistent results across formulae (Bell &
McCallum, 2008), the Flesch Kincaid is adequate for deter-
mining an increasing difficulty level from passage to passage.
The passages are written in lower case letters and without end-
ing punctuation, and include varying numbers of sentences,
each arranged to create a coherent, meaningful paragraph.
Forms are identical except for spacing; for the Ideas version,
spaces are only between words, e.g.,
the star shone brightly in the sky the sky was cloudless
while for the FACS:A Words version, spaces within and be-
tween words are the same, e.g.,
t h e s t a r s h o n e b r i g h t l y
Both forms are timed; examinees are given four minutes to read
and mark as many ideas (FACS: A Ideas) or words (FACS:A
Words) as possible. Initial validity data for a pilot version of the
FACS: A Ideas were obtained from a sample of 163 college
students who also took the Nelson-Denny and the Modern
Language Aptitude Test (MLAT; Carroll & Sapon, 1959, 2002).
The correlation coefficient between the pilot FACS:A Ideas and
reading rate and comprehension from the Nelson-Denny
were .39 and .50, respectively; of note, the correlation with
comprehension was higher than with rate. Further, though
modest, correlations between the pilot FACS:A Ideas and the
MLAT were significant and higher than correlations between
the Nelson-Denny and the MLAT (.24 to .37 versus .05 to .30)
(Hopkins, Mounger, Kirk, & McCallum, 2009). Test-retest data
for the pilot version (over a two week period) indicated a cor-
relation coefficient of .95 for a subsample of 27 participants.
Inter-scorer reliability (95%) for this version was also impres-
sive across three raters (percentage agreement divided by per-
centage agreement plus percentage disagreement).
Because the pilot version of the FACS:A Ideas had a limited
ceiling (the most difficult passage readability was 6.5 using
Flesch Kincaid), additional passages of increasing difficulty
were written and passages with readability lower than 4th grade
were eliminated. Further, because the novel technique (marking
between ideas) is essentially untested, two forms of the FACS:
A were created for this study. The score from FACS:A Words
was determined by counting the total number of words read
minus the errors made when slashing between words (e.g., extra
misplaced slashes, omissions). Reliability and validity data on
the word chaining “word” format is available (see Hammill, et
al., 2006; Mather, et al., 2004; Miller-Guron, 1999).
Scores from FACS:A Ideas included the total words read,
percent of ideas correct, and comprehension x rate. Total words
read was calculated in a manner identical to that calculated for
FACS:A Words. Percent correct was calculated by dividing the
number of ideas correctly identified by the number of ideas the
examinee attempted. Thus, percent correct is a measure of how
accurately the individual identified ideas within the passages.
Finally, comprehension x rate was calculated by multiplying
the value obtained for percent correct (i.e., proportion) by the
value obtained for total words read. Thus, the comprehension x
rate score is a measure of fluency moderated by comprehen-
Nelson-Denny. Designed for students in high school and
college, Nelson-Denny has two alternate forms and includes
measures of vocabulary, comprehension, and reading rate
(Brown, et al., 1993) though only comprehension and rate were
assessed in the current study. Form G Comprehension subtest
was administered; it consists of a series of seven expository
passages followed by sets of multiple-choice comprehension
questions. A Reading Rate measure is embedded in the Com-
prehension subtest, which has a 20 minute time limit. Reading
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 47
Rate is determined by the approximate number of self-reported
words read silently in one minute. Brown et al. reported alter-
nate forms reliability for Reading Rate (r = .68) and for Com-
prehension (r = .81). Scale score norms for college students
were used in the data analyses.
Alternate response formats of FACS:A were administered in
counterbalanced order, followed by the Comprehension subtest
of the Nelson-Denny during two semesters in the same calendar
year, spring and fall. Measures were administered in classes,
according to scripted directions, by a special education profes-
sor and trained graduate students in school psychology and
special education. The University’s policies on rights of human
subjects were followed.
Participants’ means and standard deviations of scores from
the FACS:A and Nelson-Denny scores are presented in Table 1.
Nelson-Denny population scale score means and standard de-
viations are set to 200 and 25 respectively for both rate and
comprehension measures. Pearson product moment correlations
were calculated between participants’ scale scores on Nel-
son-Denny Comprehension and Reading Rate and their FACS:
A Words and Ideas scores and are presented in Table 2. Be-
-cause the standard deviations of our sample for reading rate
and comprehension were less than 25 (21.63 and 18.61, respec-
tively), correlations were corrected for restriction in range. All
relationships were significant except for the relationship be-
tween percent of ideas correct (FACS:A Ideas) and Nelson-
Denny Reading Rate. FACS:A Ideas significantly correlated
with Nelson-Denny Reading Rate (r = .58, p < .01) and Com-
prehension (r = .63, p < .01). And, FACS:A Words signifi-
cantly correlated with Nelson-Denny Reading Rate (r = .56, p
< .01) and Nelson-Denny Comprehension (r = .52, p < .01). In
sum, both formats yielded moderate correlations with both
Nelson-Denny rate and comprehension. Further, the Ideas as-
sessment yielded slightly stronger correlations with both rate
and comprehension. Because the relationship between FACS:A
Ideas and FACS: A Words and reading comprehension is of
primary focus, we tested the statistical significance of the dif-
ference between the two coefficients (.52 and .63). The magni-
tude of the difference is not significantly different, z = .03, p
> .05.
The current study extends research on a pilot version of a
unique group reading screener; previous research revealed
stronger correlations between this experimental method with
the MLAT than between the Nelson-Denny and the MLAT in a
college sample (Hopkins, et al., 2009). Current results indicate
that both FACS:A Ideas and FACS:A Words yield moderate
correlations with comprehension as measured by the Nelson-
Denny. Additionally, FACS:A Ideas yields slightly higher
Table 1.
Means and standard deviations of participants’ scores on the Nelson-Denny reading testing (ND) and the fluency and comprehension screener: adults
(FACS:A) (n = 161).
Reading Measure M SD
ND Reading Rate Scale Score 201.67 21.64
ND Comprehension Scale Score 225.64 18.61
FACS:A Ideas Total Words Read 562.52 139.15
FACS:A Ideas Percent Correct (Proportion) .89 .10
FACS:A Ideas Comprehension x Rate 505.20 147.78
FACS:A Words Total Words Read-Errors 178.52 39.37
Table 2.
Pearson product moment correlation coefficients representing relationships between Nelson-Denny reading test (ND) and fluency and comprehension
screener: adults, (FACS:A) ideas (I) and words (W) versions.
Reading Rate
FACS:A Ideas
Total Words Read
FACS:A Ideas
Percent Correct
FACS:A Ideas
ND Reading Rate
ND Comprehension .35*
FACS:A Ideas Total Words Read .54* (.59) .47* (.58)
FACS:A Ideas Percent Correct (Proportion) .14 (.16) .40* (.51) .35*
FACS:A Ideas Comprehension x Rate .50* (.58) .52* (.63) .95* .61*
FACS:A Words Words Read – Errors .51* (.56) .41* (.52) .52* .34* .54*
ote: Values in parentheses are corrected for restriction in range; *Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
correlations (though not significantly) than FACS:A Words.
These results indicate that the unique format of FACS:A repre-
sents a promising method of screening rate and comprehension,
particularly given that data reveal strong test-retest reliability of
the FACS:A Ideas (.95), as compared to the authors’ reported
alternate form reliability of the Nelson Denny Reading rate
Results and implications are limited by sample characteris-
tics—participants were teacher education students from one
university. Further research should be conducted with a more
diverse sample, i.e., adolescents and adult learners functioning
across a wide range of literacy skills but especially at lower
levels. Nonetheless, results provide preliminary support for the
utility of this unique assessment format. The fact that partici-
pants in this sample identified a high percentage of ideas cor-
rect may have negatively impacted the correlation with com-
prehension. Extending the ceiling and/or using this technique
with adolescents and adults with significant reading challenges
may yield additional data to support its use with these popula-
In summary, this method appears to hold promise as an effi-
cient screener to identify differences in how efficiently indi-
viduals read and comprehend connected text. Further, the tech-
nique can be used informally. That is, educators may simply
import existing curriculum materials into the FACS:A Ideas
format. Following the recommendation of Behrman (2000),
educators could use content-specific text and use results to
provide quick, rough estimates of their students’ comprehen-
sion and fluency (words read per minute).
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