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© 2005 International Reading Association (pp. 510–519) doi:10.1598/RT.58.6.2
JOHN J. PIKULSKI
DAVID J. CHARD
Fluency: Bridge between decoding
and reading comprehension
As part of a developmental process of
building decoding skills, fluency can form a
bridge to reading comprehension.
luency, which has been referred to as a “neg-
lected” aspect of reading by the National
Reading Panel (National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000),
currently is receiving substantial attention from re-
searchers and practitioners. This may be because
NICHD’s influential Report of the National
Reading Panel identified fluency as one of only
five critical components of reading.
Fluency has sometimes been viewed as essen-
tially an oral reading phenomenon. The National
Reading Panel defined reading fluency as “the abil-
ity to read text quickly, accurately, and with prop-
er expression” (NICHD, 2000, p. 3-5). Definitions
that emphasize the oral aspect of fluency may, at
least in part, account for why fluency has not his-
torically received much attention. The importance
of oral reading pales dramatically in comparison
to that of silent reading comprehension. Most read-
ers spend a minuscule amount of time doing oral
reading as compared to silent reading.
A definition of fluency needs to encompass
more than oral reading. The Literacy Dictionary:
The Vocabulary of Reading and Writing defined
fluency as “freedom from word identification prob-
lems that might hinder comprehension” (Harris &
Hodges, 1995, p. 85). This definition enlarges our
understanding of reading fluency to include com-
prehension. Samuels (2002), a pioneer in research
and theory in reading fluency, cited this expanded
definition as a major force in elevating the impor-
tance of fluency in the field of reading.
The correlation between fluency and compre-
hension was clearly established by a large-scale
data analysis from the National Assessment of
Educational Progress in Reading (Pinnell et al.,
1995). In that study, 44% of the subjects were not
fluent when reading grade-level appropriate mate-
rials; the study also showed a significant, positive
relationship between oral reading fluency and read-
ing comprehension. However, the relationship
between fluency and comprehension is fairly com-
plex. This complexity was summed up well by
Stecker, Roser, and Martinez (1998) in their review
of fluency research: “The issue of whether fluency
is an outgrowth [of] or a contributor to compre-
hension is unresolved. There is empirical evidence
to support both positions” (p. 300). However, in the
end they concluded, “Fluency has been shown to
have a ‘reciprocal relationship’ with comprehen-
sion, with each fostering the other” (p. 306).
A comprehensive definition, then, would relate
the centrality of fluency to reading comprehension
and its established dimensions. We propose the fol-
lowing synthesis of the definitions in the Report of
the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) and
The Literacy Dictionary (Harris & Hodges, 1995):
Reading fluency refers to efficient, effective word-
recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the
meaning of text. Fluency is manifested in accurate, rap-
id, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and
makes possible, silent reading comprehension.
We think that the issue of a definition is not
trivial but central to making important decisions
about the teaching and assessment of fluency.
Directly related to a definition is whether a “sur-
face” or “deep” construct of fluency is adopted.
A surface construct of fluency builds on an oral
Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension
reading definition and views the development of flu-
ency as the direct treatment of accuracy, speed, and
prosody of oral reading. A surface view of fluency
leads to practices such as simply urging students
to read faster. On the other hand, a deep construct
views fluency far more broadly as part of a devel-
opmental process of building decoding skills that
will form a bridge to reading comprehension and
that will have a reciprocal, causal relationship with
reading comprehension. In a deep view of fluency,
it becomes necessary to think about fluency as part
of a child’s earliest experiences with print and with
the phonology that becomes associated with that
print. In this view, efficient decoding is consistent-
ly related to comprehension.
Historical development of the
construct of reading fluency
While an early discussion of the construct of
reading fluency is found in the classic publication
by Huey (1908/1968), most discussions of fluency
trace their modern theoretical foundations to the
1974 seminal article by LaBerge and Samuels.
These researchers argued that human beings can at-
tend to only one thing at a time. We are able to do
more than one thing at a time if we alternate our
attention between two or more activities, or if one
of the activities is so well learned that it can be per-
formed automatically. Reading successfully is a
complex interaction of language, sensory percep-
tion, memory, and motivation. To illustrate the role
of fluency, it helps to characterize this multifac-
eted process as including at least two activities:
(1) word identification or decoding and (2) com-
prehension, or the construction of the meaning of
text. In order for reading to proceed effectively, the
reader cannot focus attention on both processes.
Constructing meaning involves making inferences,
responding critically, and so on, and it always re-
quires attention. The nonfluent reader can alter-
nate attention between the two processes; however,
this makes reading a laborious, often punishing
process. If attention is drained by decoding words,
little or no capacity is available for the attention-
demanding process of comprehending. Therefore,
automaticity of decoding—a critical component of
fluency—is essential for high levels of reading
Stanovich (1986) also contributed significantly
to elevating the importance of reading fluency. In
his classic article, he demonstrated a clear relation-
ship between fluency and the amount of reading in
which a reader engages. Readers who achieve
some fluency are likely to read more extensively
than readers who lack fluency because the latter
find reading difficult. Stanovich pointed out that
as a result of reading more extensively, readers
grow in all the skills that contribute to fluency and
in fluency itself. Nonfluent readers who avoid read-
ing fall further and further behind.
The Report of the National Reading Panel
(NICHD, 2000) significantly elevated attention to
fluency. The panel’s review largely reflected the
position that “fluency develops from reading prac-
tice” (p. 3-1). Therefore, much of the review was
devoted to analyzing the research supporting two
major approaches to providing students with read-
ing practice: “first, procedures that emphasize re-
peated oral reading practice or guided repeated oral
reading practice; and second, all formal efforts to
increase the amounts of independent or recreation-
al reading that students engage in” (p. 3-5). The
panel concluded that there is substantial evidence
to support the use of repeated reading procedures.
However, they raised questions about the evidence
to support wide independent reading for promoting
There seems little reason to reject the idea that lots
of silent reading would provide students with valuable
practice that would enhance fluency and, ultimately,
comprehension.... [I]t could be that if you read more,
you will become a better reader; however, it also seems
possible that better readers simply choose to read
more. (p. 3-21)
In essence, the panel concluded that while there is
very strong correlational support for independent
reading contributing to fluency, there is no con-
vincing experimental research to show that in-
creasing independent reading will increase fluency
or reading achievement.
The previous discussion of fluency and of the
related research is certainly not a comprehensive
review. Many important research findings are omit-
ted. For more comprehensive discussions of fluen-
cy, readers are encouraged to consult reviews, such
as those by the National Reading Panel (NICHD,
2000), Reutzel (1996), Stecker at al. (1998), and
The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 6 March 2005
the entire Summer 1991 (volume 30, number 3) is-
sue of the journal Theory Into Practice.
While the National Reading Panel’s report
(NICHD, 2000) is clearly instructive for its critical
review of how practice may affect fluency, the posi-
tion taken in this article is that a much broader ap-
proach is warranted, one that addresses the need for
systematic, long-term, explicit fluency instruction
along with careful monitoring and assessment for at
least some students. Rather than focus solely on how
to improve fluency when it is not developing as ex-
pected, it would seem instructive to examine the el-
ements of early literacy that contribute to fluency.
Ehri’s stages of reading
development and fluency
Ehri (1995, 1998) has developed a carefully re-
searched, elegant theory of how readers systemati-
cally progress in stages to achieve fluency, which is
in line with a “deep,” developmental construct of
fluency. We review her theory because it brings co-
herence to much of the research on fluency and be-
cause it offers a framework for instruction designed
to promote and improve fluency. Ehri distinguished
four stages of reading development.
Readers at the Pre-Alphabetic Stage have no
appreciation of the alphabetic principle—the idea
that, in languages like English, there is a systematic
relationship between the limited number of sounds
of the language and the graphic forms (letters) of
the language. At the Pre-Alphabetic Stage, children
attempt to translate the unfamiliar visual forms of
print into familiar oral language through visual
clues in the print. Children might remember the
word monkey by associating the descending shape
of the last letter with a monkey’s tail. Obviously
this is not a productive approach and quickly leads
to confusion because my, pony, and many other
words would also be read as monkey.
At the Partial Alphabetic Stage, readers have
learned that letters and sounds are related, and they
begin to use that insight. However, they are not able
to deal with the full complexity of the sounds in
words, so they aren’t able to make complete use of
the letter–sound relationships. Therefore, children
focus on the most salient parts of a word and con-
sequently use initial and, later, final letters as the
clues to a printed word’s pronunciation. If readers at
this stage learn that the letter sequence g-e-t is get,
they may focus just on the g and the sound it rep-
resents to identify the word. However, using this
strategy of focusing on the first letter, the letter
sequences give, go, and gorilla might also be iden-
tified as get. While children at this stage of devel-
opment will make errors in identifying words, they
can make progress toward becoming fluent because
they have developed the insight that the letters of a
word are clues to the sounds of the word.
As children become more familiar with letters
and sounds, they move into the Fully Alphabetic
Stage. Now, even though they may never have seen
it in print before, if they know the sounds com-
monly associated with the letters b-u-g, they can
think about the sounds for each of the letters and
blend them together to arrive at the pronunciation
of the word. As a result of encountering the print-
ed word bug several times, as few as four times ac-
cording to a widely cited study (Reitsma, 1983),
children come to accurately, instantly identify the
word bug without attending to the individual let-
ters, sounds, or letter–sound associations. Ehri (1998)
described skilled reading in the following way:
“Most of the words are known by sight. Sight read-
ing is a fast-acting process. The term sight indicates
that sight of the word activates that word in mem-
ory, including information about its spelling, pro-
nunciation, typical role in sentences, and meaning”
(pp. 11–12). This instant, accurate, and automatic
access to all these dimensions of a printed word is
the needed fluency that will allow readers to focus
their attention on comprehension rather than on de-
coding. It is important to note that Ehri’s theory and
research indicate that it is the careful processing
of print in the Fully Alphabetic Stage that leads to
this rapid, instant recognition. Partial Alphabetic
readers store incomplete representations of words
and, therefore, confuse similar words, such as were,
where, wire, and wore. However, once the word
form is fully processed, with repeated encounters
of the word, it is recognized instantly.
Readers who recognize whole words instantly
have reached the Consolidated Alphabetic Stage.
They also develop another valuable, attention-
saving decoding skill. Not only do readers at this
stage store words as units, but also repeated en-
counters with words allow them to store letter pat-
terns across different words. A multiletter unit like
-ent will be stored as a unit as a result of reading the
words went, sent, and bent. Upon encountering the
word dent for the first time, a consolidated alpha-
betic reader would need to connect only two units:
d and -ent, rather than the four units that the Fully
Alphabetic reader would need to combine. While
this approach to reading a word is faster than
blending the individual phonemes, it is not as fast
and efficient as sight recognition of the word.
Readers who have reached the Consolidated Stage
of reading development are in a good position to
progress toward increasingly efficient fluency;
however, in addition to these advanced word-iden-
tification skills, they also need to increase their lan-
guage vocabulary development in order to reach
advanced levels of fluent reading.
An instructional program based on
a deep construct of fluency
Our perception is that until recently some,
though certainly not all, educators took a rather
simplistic approach to developing fluency that is
summed up in the admonition “read, read, read.”
The expectation was that if students read more,
they would achieve fluency. However, research and
theory suggest that at least some students will need
expert instruction and teacher guidance in order to
progress efficiently through the stages of reading
development. We propose a nine-step developmen-
tal program for improving fluency. Some of the
steps, such as building the graphophonic founda-
tion for fluency or high-frequency vocabulary, are
usually accomplished in a relatively short period of
time (often a year or two), while others, such as
building oral language skills, are unending. Our
goal in this article is to outline the rationale and
the breadth of instruction needed for developing a
deep construct of fluency. We give some references
that offer suggestions for instructional strategies
and materials, but space limitations preclude treat-
ing each of these areas in depth. The nine-step pro-
gram should include
1. Building the graphophonic foundations for
fluency, including phonological awareness,
letter familiarity, and phonics.
2. Building and extending vocabulary and oral
3. Providing expert instruction and practice in
the recognition of high-frequency vocabulary.
4. Teaching common word parts and spelling
5. Teaching, modeling, and providing practice
in the application of a decoding strategy.
6. Using appropriate texts to coach strategic
behaviors and to build reading speed.
7. Using repeated reading procedures as an in-
tervention approach for struggling readers.
8. Extending growing fluency through wide in-
9. Monitoring fluency development through
appropriate assessment procedures.
Building the graphophonic foundations
Ehri listed three prerequisite graphophonic ca-
pabilities as foundations for fluency: (1) letter famil-
iarity, (2) phonemic awareness, and (3) knowledge
of how graphemes typically represent phonemes in
A recent publication from the International
Reading Association (Strickland & Schickendanz,
2004) offered practical, research-based approach-
es to developing graphophonic skills, including let-
ter familiarity, in emergent readers. Instruction in
the area of phonological awareness has been ad-
dressed widely (e.g., Adams, Foorman, Lundberg,
& Beeler, 1998; O’Connor, Notari-Syverson, &
The importance of the three graphophonic fac-
tors is fully documented in numerous research re-
ports (e.g., Adams, 1990; NICHD, 2000). In order
to move from the Pre-Alphabetic Stage to the
Partial Alphabetic and Fully Alphabetic Stages
(Ehri, 1998), students need to grasp the alphabetic
principle and to apply efficiently information about
the relationship between the letters and sounds
(phonics) to recognize words. This clearly requires
a high level of familiarity with letter forms as well
as the ability to segment and blend the smallest
units of spoken language, phonemes.
Oral language foundations for fluency
In addition to the graphophonic skills, Ehri’s
(1998) theory requires a foundation in language
Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension
skills so that students are familiar with the syntax
or grammatical function of the words and phrases
they are reading and with their meanings.
Developing the oral language and vocabulary
skills of children, particularly those who are learn-
ing English as a second language or those who
spent their preschool years in language-restricted
environments, is one of the greatest challenges fac-
ing educators. Many excellent resources exist for
meeting this challenge. Recent examples include
texts by Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002);
Blachowicz and Fisher (2002); and Nagy (1988).
Ehri (1998) showed that progress in reading
beyond the beginning stages is dependent on oral
language development, pointing out that reading
words, particularly reading them fluently, is de-
pendent on familiarity with them in their oral form.
If the syntactic and meaning aspects of the word
are to be activated, they must be part of what the
reader knows through oral language development.
For the word-recognition process as proposed in
Ehri’s theory to be complete, it must connect with
meaning that has been developed as another aspect
of language development. Consider the following
words: zigzags and onychophagia (nail biting).
Mature readers have no difficulty very rapidly de-
coding the first word, even though it is one of the
least frequent words in printed English. However, it
takes mature readers much longer to arrive at a pro-
nunciation of the second word because it not only
infrequently appears in print but is also very infre-
quently used in speech and, therefore, is not likely
to be a word in a mature reader’s mental lexicon.
Unless a printed word can connect with both the
phonological memory for the word and also with
the syntactical and meaning aspects of the word, it
cannot be fluently decoded or read. It seems un-
fortunate that many surface discussions of fluency
fail to make the point that fluency is dependent on
the reader’s vocabulary as well as on his or her de-
Teaching high-frequency vocabulary
High-frequency words are those words that ap-
pear over and over again in our language—words
such as the, of, and, at, and to. If developing read-
ers cannot instantly identify these words, they are
unlikely to become fluent.
One approach to building fluent recognition of
high-frequency vocabulary, exceedingly popular
with primary-grade teachers, is the use of word walls
where high-frequency vocabulary is posted and
practiced (P.M. Cunningham, 2000). Cunningham
also offered a variety of other approaches to teaching
high-frequency words, as did Bear, Invernizzi,
Templeton, and Johnston (1996).
Ehri’s (1995, 1998) theory and research also
offered important, practical teaching suggestions.
High-frequency words often have been seen as a
serious challenge because many of them don’t lend
themselves to straightforward application of de-
coding skills; they are, in the jargon of reading in-
struction, phonically irregular—words such as the,
of, was, and have. Teaching high-frequency words
can be difficult. This difficulty may very well con-
tribute to the periodic abandonment of phonics ap-
proaches and the rise of whole-word approaches
to teaching beginning reading skills, with accom-
panying emphasis on drill using flashcards to force
children to read the words as a whole. Ehri’s work
suggested that they also contain many letter–sound
regularities, and that these regularities are the best
mnemonics for developing accurate, instant recog-
nition. For example, while the word have does not
follow the generalization about the effect of a final
e on a preceding vowel sound, the h, v, and e all be-
have as they should, and the a does represent a
sound that it often represents. Ehri suggested that
we should point out the regular elements of irregu-
lar words in order to help children gain instant
recognition of them. This is a practice rarely men-
tioned by “experts” or used by teachers, but it
might play a very important role in avoiding diffi-
culty with such words and thus promoting the de-
velopment of fluency.
Recognizing word parts and spelling
Word parts and spelling patterns are combina-
tions of letters such as at, ell, ick, and op, which are
found as units in many words that appear in begin-
ning reading texts.
Here again, P.M. Cunningham (2000) and Bear
et al. (1996) are among the many resources that of-
fer practical teaching suggestions, including a list
of the most common word parts found in beginning
The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 6 March 2005
Introducing students to multiple-letter units
clearly helps to move them from the Fully
Alphabetic to the Consolidated Alphabetic Stage.
However, Ehri’s (1995, 1998) research and theory
offered an important instructional generalization—
students should first be introduced to and made
cognizant of the individual letters and sounds that
constitute the rime (a Fully Alphabetic approach) in
order to better recall and identify the unit.
Teaching a decoding strategy
There are several major ways in which words
can be recognized or identified in print: instantly as
units; through recognition and blending of phonic
elements; through the context in which they appear,
including language/sentence context and picture
clues; or by checking the phonetic respellings of a
dictionary or glossary. Ehri’s (1995) theory is clear:
The best way to recognize words is through instant
recognition that drains no attention. All other ap-
proaches require attention. However, when a word
is not instantly recognized, it is useful for readers to
Ehri’s (1995) theory suggested a strategic ap-
proach to dealing with words that are not instantly
recognized. In kindergarten and the beginning of
first grade, emphasis is on moving young readers
from the Partial Alphabetic Stage to the Fully
Alphabetic Stage of reading, with an emphasis on
careful attention to the graphophonic characteris-
tics of the word. By the middle of first grade, the
goal is to move students increasingly into the
Consolidated Alphabetic Stage. The italicized por-
tion of the following strategy is recommended as
young readers become familiar with word parts.
• Look at the letters from left to right.
• As you look at the letters, think about the
sounds for the letters.
•Blend the sounds together and look for word
parts you know to read the word.
• Ask yourself, “Is this a word I know? Does it
make sense in what I am reading?”
• If it doesn’t make sense, try other strategies
(e.g., pronouncing the word another way or
Readers who are at the Partial Alphabetic and
Fully Alphabetic Stages will need to look careful-
ly at the word they are trying to identify, think
about the sounds the letters are likely to represent,
and then use the skill of phoneme blending to try to
arrive at the correct decoding or pronunciation of
the word. Because some words are not completely
phonically regular, students should then be encour-
aged to ask themselves if their use of phonics re-
sults in the identification of a word that makes
sense—that it is a word they have heard before and
fits the context of what they are reading. As stu-
dents begin to move from the Fully Alphabetic to
the Consolidated Alphabetic Stage of development,
in addition to using phonic elements, they should
also be encouraged to look for word parts (chunks)
and spelling patterns that they know, such as
phonograms. The presentation of phonics and word
parts, followed by use of context, appears to be,
by far, the best order.
Use of context as the primary approach to iden-
tifying words has serious limitations. First, if the
context is highly predictive of a word, it is likely
that students will not pay attention to the graphic
information in the word. Careful processing of the
printed form is what eventually enables a reader to
recognize that word instantly. This is a major limi-
tation of the predictable texts that use very heavy,
artificial context to allow word identification.
Second, context rarely leads to the correct identifi-
cation of a specific word. Ehri (1998) reviewed re-
search suggesting that words in a text that carry
the most meaning can be correctly identified by
context only about 10% of the time. However, con-
text and the other approaches to decoding words do
play an important role in decoding—that of con-
firming the identification of words. As Ehri put it,
As each sight word is fixated, its meaning and pronun-
ciation are triggered in memory quickly and automati-
cally. However, the other word reading processes do
not lie dormant; their contribution is not to identify
words in text but to confirm the identity already de-
termined. Knowledge of the graphophonic system con-
firms that the word’s pronunciation fits the spelling on
the page. Knowledge of syntax confirms that the word
fits into the structure of the sentence. World knowl-
edge and text memory confirm that the word’s mean-
ing is consistent with the text’s meaning up to that
point. (p. 11)
Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension
Using appropriate texts to promote
In order for progress in fluency to be made, stu-
dents need to practice and apply their growing word-
identification skills to appropriate texts. Appropriate
texts are particularly critical for students having
difficulty with word-identification skills. Guided
reading is once again a useful way to match students
and texts. Resources such as the work of Fountas
and Pinnell (1996) offer guidance in selecting texts
and providing appropriate instruction with those
Hiebert and Fisher (in press) studied fluency
development as it relates to the features of the texts
used for promoting fluency. Specifically, they were
interested in examining the effects of texts in which
particular text features were carefully controlled.
The treatment texts that Hiebert and Fisher de-
signed had the following key features: a small
number of unique words, a high percentage of most
frequently used words, and often repeated critical
words (those words that influence the meaning of
the text most). Students in the comparison group
read from texts typically associated with commer-
cial reading programs. Students reading in the
treatment texts made significant gains in fluency
over their peers in the comparison condition. There
also seemed to be an effect for comprehension for
second-language learners. These findings suggest-
ed that the features of the texts being used to pro-
mote fluency should be carefully considered.
Using repeated reading procedures
As noted earlier in this article, the Report of
the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) was
unequivocal in its support of repeated reading pro-
cedures. The references described a range of pro-
cedures in sufficient detail to allow teachers to
employ them with students who need extra support
in developing fluency. These procedures included
those described as repeated reading (Samuels,
1979), neurological impress (Heckelman, 1969),
radio reading (Greene, 1979), paired reading
(Topping, 1987), “and a variety of similar tech-
niques” (p. 3-1). A review of these approaches sug-
gests substantial differences in the procedures used
and the amount of teacher guidance offered (Chard,
Vaughn, & Tyler, 2002; Kuhn & Stahl, 2000).
However, as noted, the panel concluded that all ap-
peared to have merit.
Encouraging wide independent reading
For more able readers, repeated readings of the
same texts may not be as necessary as they are for
struggling readers. Increasing the amount of read-
ing these able readers do may be as beneficial, and
perhaps more so (Mathes & Fuchs, 1993).
The beneficial effects of wide reading appear
to have been somewhat called into question by the
Report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD,
2000), which reached the following conclusion:
“Based on the existing evidence, the NRP can only
indicate that while encouraging students to read
might be beneficial, research has not yet demon-
strated this in a clear and convincing manner”
(p. 3). It is important to keep in mind that the
National Reading Panel used restrictive criteria for
what they included as research and also that it
clearly held out the possibility of beneficial effects
for wide reading.
Previous highly respected research syntheses
have been far less restrained about the salutary ef-
fects of wide reading. For example, Becoming a
Nation of Readers (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, &
Wilkinson, 1985) concluded,
Research suggests that the amount of independent,
silent reading that children do in school is significantly
related to gains in reading achievement.... Research
also shows that the amount of reading students do out
of school is consistently related to gains in reading
achievement. (pp. 76–77)
In her critical review of beginning reading research,
Adams (1990) concluded, “Children should be giv-
en as much opportunity and encouragement as pos-
sible to practice their reading. Beyond the basics,
children’s reading facility, as well as their vocabu-
lary and conceptual growth, depends strongly on
the amount of text they read” (p. 127).
Stanovich and his colleagues (A.E. Cunning-
ham & Stanovich, 1998; Nathan & Stanovich,
1991; Stanovich, 1986) have presented impressive
research results and theoretical arguments for the
value of wide reading. The evidence and rationale
that they present, however, is that the positive rela-
tionship between reading achievement and wide
reading may not be affected exclusively through
The Reading Teacher Vol. 58, No. 6 March 2005
the development of fluency but through the devel-
opment of language and cognitive abilities as well.
If students are making adequate progress with
fluency, wide reading rather than repeated readings
may lead to greater improvements in vocabulary
and comprehension. However, for less able read-
ers experiencing particular difficulties with fluency,
repeated readings remain an important approach
to building fluency.
The assessment of fluency
As noted at the beginning of this article, flu-
ency has been referred to as the “neglected aspect”
of reading. The assessment of fluency, in particular,
appears to have received very limited attention.
There are few research studies that have investi-
gated how fluency should be assessed or what cri-
teria should be applied to determine whether or not
a reader has achieved it. Perhaps it is this dearth of
data that led the National Reading Panel (NICHD,
2000) to conclude,
A number of informal procedures can be used in the
classroom to assess fluency: informal reading invento-
ries, miscue analysis, pausing indices, and reading
speed calculations. All these assessment procedures
require oral reading of text, and all can provide an ad-
equate index of fluency. (p. 3-9)
While few experimental studies have been con-
ducted using these informal procedures, it may
very well have been that the National Reading
Panel recognized the practical need for classroom
assessment, leading them to endorse procedures
that may not have the strong research support they
more typically require in other parts of the report.
To meet this practical need, there are many pub-
lished informal inventories, such as the Qualitative
Reading Inventory–III, and leveled texts, such as
Leveled Reading Passages (Houghton Mifflin,
2001). These are just two examples of instruments
that can be used to periodically and practically as-
sess the four dimensions of fluency that are neces-
sary for a full, deep, developmental construct of
fluency: oral reading accuracy, oral reading rate,
quality of oral reading, and reading comprehension.
Teachers who want to assess selective aspects
of fluency can use guidelines that have been sug-
gested for assessing oral reading rate and accuracy
(e.g., Hasbrouck & Tindal, 1992; Rasinski, 2003).
Likewise, procedures have been established for as-
sessing the quality of oral reading using standard-
ized rubrics that go beyond rate and accuracy, such
as those based upon National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP) data (Pinnell et al.,
We recommend that teachers at second grade
and beyond take measures of fluency, at least at
the beginning and end of a school year, to gauge
progress in this important area and to check peri-
odically through the year any students who are
making doubtful progress. A more comprehensive
review of the research related to fluency assess-
ment is beyond the scope of this article.
Fluency is necessary
While the construct of fluency might have been
neglected in the past, it is receiving much-deserved
attention presently. A very strong research and the-
oretical base indicates that while fluency in and of
itself is not sufficient to ensure high levels of read-
ing achievement, fluency is absolutely necessary
for that achievement because it depends upon and
typically reflects comprehension. If a reader has
not developed fluency, the process of decoding
words drains attention, and insufficient attention is
available for constructing the meaning of texts.
Fluency builds on a foundation of oral lan-
guage skills, phonemic awareness, familiarity with
letter forms, and efficient decoding skills. Ehri’s
(1995) description of the stages of word recogni-
tion explains how readers come to recognize words
by sight through the careful processing of print.
Substantial research has also been conducted
on how best to develop fluency for students who do
not yet have it. While there is a dearth of experi-
mental research studies on developing fluency
through increasing the amount of independent
reading in which students engage, there is substan-
tial correlational evidence showing a clear relation-
ship between the amount students read, their
reading fluency, and their reading comprehension.
However, students who are nonachieving in read-
ing are not in a position to engage in wide reading,
and they may need more guidance and support in
order to develop fluency. Research shows that a va-
riety of procedures based on repeated readings can
help readers to improve their fluency.
Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension
Little research is available to guide the assess-
ment of fluency. While more research is needed on
the issues of adequate rates of fluency at various
grade levels and for judging the quality of oral
reading, there is good agreement that the compre-
hensive assessment of fluency must include meas-
ures of oral reading accuracy, rate of oral reading,
and quality of oral reading. There is also growing
agreement that these dimensions of fluency must be
assessed within the context of reading comprehen-
sion. Fluency without accompanying high levels of
reading comprehension is of very limited value.
Pikulski is professor emeritus at the University
of Delaware. He can be contacted at 12 Dawn
Meadow Lane, Newark, DE 19711, USA. Chard
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