Text Leveling and Little Books in First-Grade Reading

CIERA Report #1-010

James V. Hoffman, Nancy L. Roser, Rachel Salas, Elizabeth Patterson, and Julie Pennington
The University of Texas--Austin

CIERA Inquiry 1: Readers and Texts
What are the characteristics of readers and texts that have the greatest influence on early reading? What are the tasks posed to young readers by currently available beginning reading programs?

In this paper, Hoffman and his colleagues investigated the validity of two current approaches for estimating text difficulty at the first-grade level--the Scale for Text Accessibility and Support-Grade 1 (STAS-1) and the Fountas/Pinnell system--and analyzed student performance in relation to each.They worked with 105 first graders in two schools, using "little books"--easy to read tiny paperbacks that serve as leveled practice materials for beginning readers.

The children were tested and placed into high, middle, and low ability-based reading groups. Each child was assigned a text set to read under either a preview, modeled, or sight reading condition, and their performance was evaluated for accuracy, rate, and fluency.

These readings convinced Hoffman and his colleagues that the text leveling procedures these systems employed were largely accurate. Their analysis even suggested potential benchmarks for first-grade performance: 95% accuracy, 80 words per minute, and a fluency level of 3 (on a scale of 1-5) with reading material of mid-first-grade difficulty. (More research is needed, they stress, to determine whether these figures hold for the larger public.) Lastly, they found that the modeled reading condition seemed particularly supportive of children's subsequent independent reading at any level.

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