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Reading Rate

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 10 months ago




Suzanne Pfeiffer

Deborah Louie

Cynthia Boles


Reading Rate



Automaticity and Reading Rate

The Underlying Factors of Word Reading Rate


Effects of Explicit Timing on Reading Rate

Effects of Silent Reading on Reading Rate

Why Speed Matters

The Rauding Theory





The goal in Fluency instruction is not fast reading, although that often happens to be a byproduct of the instruction, but fluent and meaning-filled reading. Gathering meaning from text requires more than just the simple decoding of words. In order to attend to the semantics of the written word a reader must acquire the skill of automaticity which then allows the development of a proficient reading rate.


Automaticity and Reading Rate

LaBerge and Samuels (1974) constructed the Model of Automaticity in Reading to study the processing of information during the act of reading. The model takes into account perceptual learning of codes (sounds, letters, and whole words) and the use of four memory areas: visual, phonological, semantic, and episodic (see figure below).

Not surprisingly they found that the more familiar a subject was with the letter or pattern codes he was presented with the quicker his decoding response. Given time visual codes include entire words and these visual codes automatically activate a phonological code, e.g., the word "cat" automatically activates the phonological associate /cat/ rather than a sound by sound decoding /c/-/a/-/t/. Later research conducted by Ehri (1995) would name this automatic visual phonological association of word patterns sight word vocabulary.


LaBerge and Samuels stress the difference between accuracy and automaticity. Given enough time the correct answer was usually supplied by the test subjects but at a cost: mental attention. A reader has only attained automaticity in reading if attention is focused on comprehension of word meaning while the decoding of words is, for the most part, unconscious. With the accomplishment of automaticity reading rate is increased. As noted below (see rauding; Craver (1992)) reading rate may be increased passed the point of comprehension, resulting in word calling rather than true reading.



The Underlying Factors of Word Reading Rate

Word reading rate is perceived in two ways. One perspective claims that word reading rate is a dependent variable -- an outcome of the effectiveness of word recognition skills and comprehension -- and, as such, rate is used as a diagnostic tool for reading impairments. An alternative view holds that reading rate is an independent variable that influences the quality of reading skills. This latter position does not exclude the role of reading rate as a dependent variable, but implies that it may also function independently to affect reading fluency (Breznitz, Z., Berman, L., 2003).


The role of reading rate as a dependent variable has been extensively studied and documented. In a systematic reading research studies, Breznitz carried out experiments to determine the effects of decoding errors and comprehension of test passages at fastest and slowest reading rates. When children were presented with the text at their maximal normal reading rates, they averaged fewer reading errors and higher comprehension scores than in the self-paced conditions. In contrast, when the text was presented at the slowest reading rates, the children’s decoding accuracy improved, but their comprehension decreased significantly. Accelerating reading rate based on individual self-paced ability significantly reduces decoding errors and enhances comprehension. Individually decelerating reading rate, below individual self-paced reading rate, improves decoding accuracy but reduces comprehension. The combination of results is referred to as the acceleration phenomenon (Breznitz, Z., Share, D., 1992 & Breznitz, Z., Berman, L., 2003).


The fact that various groups of readers can read faster than their routine self-paced reading rate and enhance their reading effectiveness raises a question concerning the underlying factors that affect word reading rate. Word reading is based on both phonological and orthographic skills. The orthographic system is based on visual processing and provides information about the visual patterns of words or parts of words. As such, phonological processing, which involves processing language sound structure, is naturally slower than orthographic processing. Connectionist (PDP) models of reading represent phonological and orthographic processes as operating interactively during word reading. However, despite the reciprocal relationship between the systems that is needed for effective word reading, they are separate and activate information in different manners and speeds. Slow processing in one of the systems may affect word reading rate and interfere with the ability to create effective correspondence between word recognition skills.


Speed of processing of the visual and auditory modalities and the orthographic and phonological systems was examined in a series of studies (Breznitz, Z., Berman, L., 2003). Results suggest that among both young and adult normal readers, central cognitive processing is possible at the memory stage and relates most to word reading rate. Among the younger normal reading group, word reading rate relates to lower level sub-processing (at the phoneme level) whereas among the adult normal readers it relates to higher level processing (acoustic pronunciation of a word). One important result is that across all readers, word reading rate was found to relate more to auditory-phonological processing than to visual-orthographic processing.


Research results underscore the importance of speed of processing as a central factor in efficient word reading rate throughout the entire cognitive sequence. In addition, the research indicates that brain processing of normal readers can be accelerated, thereby enhancing reading effectiveness.



The National Institute for Literacy (NIL) defines oral reading rate as “a measure of word recognition automaticity,” which is considered to be the first step in an informal assessment of reading fluency. Passages for the assessment of reading rate can be found in informal reading inventories, for example the Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI-4), and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) includes a subtest called Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) that has been found to provide reliable reading rate measures (Kamii & Manning, 2005; Pressley, Hilden, and Shankland, 2005). Although many schools rely on DIBELS for reading rate assessment, a student’s correct word per minute (CWPM) score can be obtained by following the following steps as laid out by the NIL:

1. Select a short, easy passage that is one or two grade equivalents (GEs) below the learner's present oral reading GE level. If you have not given a graded oral reading test, choose a passage one or two GEs below his/her sight word recognition GE. The purpose here is to see how easily someone can read orally when she/he doesn't have to pause to decode unfamiliar words.

2. Count the words in the passage.

3. Have the learner read the passage once through orally so that both of you can see that there are no troublesome words.

4. Tell the learner to read the passage once more, but that now you are going to time the reading. The learner will read fast and may not pay any attention to punctuation. That's all right.

5. Record the time in seconds and compute the following:

words per minute = (number of words in passage ÷ reading time (in seconds)) x 60

Click here for a printer-friendly version of these steps.


Effects of Explicit Timing on Reading Rate

With the pressure of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act declaring that all children will read on grade level by 2014 and the anticipated reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Cates and Rhymer (2006) look to explicit timing as a means of prevention and treatment of reading problems in children recently referred to school psychologist because of slow reading rates.

Four students, one second grader and three third graders, who struggled with sight words but who were not yet receiving special education services, were chosen for the study. All explicit timing sessions were conducted in the elementary school classroom by the students’ teacher and witnessed by an assistant who independently scored the session and later compared their results with the teacher for interscorer agreement. All baselines were established covertly with a wrist watch while explicit timing sessions were timed with stopwatch in plain sight after the student was informed he was being assessed for speed and accuracy.

The results are shown below.

The first intervention (Explicit Timing 1) resulted in an increase in the level of performance by all four participants; when the explicit timing intervention was removed (Baseline 2) all participant performance decreased. The second intervention (Explicit Timing 2) resulted in comparable performances to the first intervention by two of the students (Russell and Anu) while Mike demonstrated increased correct responses with an increasing trend of correct responses during his final set of flashcards. The authors report that “these data suggest that the explicit timing intervention increased rates of accurate oral responding,” however, due to the small, homogenous sample, generalizations to the average classroom cannot be made.


Effects of Silent Reading on Reading Rate

Students’ rates of accurate oral reading have been shown to correlate positively with a number of measures of reading skill, including word identification, word comprehension, inferential comprehension, and literal comprehension. Interventions that increase rates of reading may also increase reading comprehension. A strategy explored by Skinner, Cooper, and Cole (1997) was listening previewing, in which students are instructed to read silently as another person reads aloud. The purpose of the study was to compare rates of accurate oral rereading following rapid and slow oral presentations between two students who were instructional at grades 2 and 3.


A silent previewing control condition was conducted also during the listening previewing session. During silent previewing, the experimenter instructed the student to read a passage silently and inform the experimenter when he was finished. Two reading intervention procedures, rapid and slow oral presentation, were compared. With both procedures, the student was instructed to follow along, reading silently, as the experimenter read aloud. During rapid presentation, the experimenter read aloud at his or her natural rate. During slow presentation, the experimenter read the passages at a reduced rate of about 50 correct per minute, the minimum mastery level for second- and third-grade readers based on normative data.


The results confirmed previous research indicating that listening previewing results in greater increases in rates of accurate rereading than silent previewing does. These findings also suggest that students’ rates of accurate oral rereading may be greater if adult readers intentionally reduce their reading rates. Because rapid presentations did not increase oral rereading rates more than the silent previewing control condition did a likely explanation for the results is that the slow presentations provided students with enough time to sub vocally read words before or after the previewer.


Why Speed Matters

“As long as students understand what they read, as long as they are making meaning out of the text, reading rate should not matter.” These comments recorded by Rasinski (2000) reveal the disregard with which some educators look towards reading rate, but he warns reading rate cannot be ignored. It is an indicator of reading fluency or, more precisely, evidence of excessively slow processing of text. The most fluent readers tended to be self-motivated, while less fluent readers were less likely to read in class or out of school. It is reasonable to assume that fluency in reading leads to greater reading and greater reading leads to gains in fluency.


Slow reading is associated with poor comprehension and poor overall reading performance. Faster readers tend to have better comprehension over what is read and tend to be, overall, more proficient readers. For most readers, a slow reading rate, one that lacks flow or fluency, suggests that the student is an inefficient reader. The slow reader has to devote so much time and attention to decoding that overall reading pace is significantly reduced, moreover, cognitive resources that could have been used for comprehension must be reallocated to word recognition.


Reading rate, efficiently, or fluency can be developed through instructional activities such as repeated readings, especially authentic ways, such as practicing poetry or scripts for later performance, and supported reading when it is done in activities where the readers reads an authentic text but is supported by a more fluent partner. Several other activities are mentioned as ways to increase the reading rate. They are: paired reading, echo reading, choral reading, reading with talking books, and buddy reading.


The Rauding Theory

The rauding theory involves looking at each consecutive word in the sentences of textual material and attempting to formulate the complete thoughts that the writer intended to communicate.


Craver (1992) describes the rauding process as one of five basic reading processing: memorizing, learning, rauding, skimming, and scanning. These skills are also called reading gears. The reading rates given for each gear are based on college students’ rates of reading. Gear 1 (memorizing) is around 138 words per minute, or even lower; Gear 2 (learning) is around 200 words per minute; Gear 3 (rauding) is around 300 words per minute; Gear 4 (skimming) is around 450 words per minute; and Gear 5 (scanning) is around 600 words per minute.


Shifting gears from one reading process to another does not mean a simple shifting of rate. Instead, shifting gears means a shift in goals, process components, and outcomes. Craver also states that the most common goal of a reader is to understand the thoughts that the writer intended to communicate, and this goal is accomplished by Gear 3, the rauding process. It is also called normal reading, natural reading, or simple reading. So, the most important reading rate is the rate at which individuals operate their rauding process. The author tested college students reading rates by having them read at rates faster and slower than 300 WPM and found that efficiency was consistently highest at rates around 300 WPM. When forced to read faster AND slower, they were less efficient.


Craver suggests teachers should expect students to increase their rauding rate rather evenly from grades 2 through 12. This is not due to schooling or practice but to cognitive maturation.



Fluent and understandable reading, not fast reading is the goal of instruction. Reading teachers, diagnosticians and specialists need to be aware of the importance of reading rate as a diagnostic indicator and to use reading rate as one of many tools for assessing students’ overall reading performance. To ignore reading rate when assessing children’s reading and designing appropriate instruction may do a major disservice to many readers who struggle with reading.



Breznitz, Z., Share, D. (1992). Effects of accelerated reading rate on memory for text. Journal of Educational Psychology. 84(2),247-265 .


Breznitz, Z., Berman, L. (2003). The underlying factors of word reading rate. Educational Psychology Review. 15(3),193-199.


Carver, R. (1992). Reading rate: Theory, research, and practical implications. Journal of Reading, 36(2), 84-95.


Cates, G.L., & Rhymer, K.T. (2006). Effects of explicit timing on elementary students' oral reading rate of word pharses. Reading Improvement, 43(3), 148-156.


Kamii, C., & Manning, M. (2005). Dynamic indicators of basic early literacy skills (DIBELS): A tool for evaulating student learning? Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 20(2), 75-90.


Ehri, L. C. (1995). Phases of development in learning to read words by sight. Journal of Research in Reading, 18, 116-125.


LaBerge, D., & Samuels, S.J. (1974). Towards a theory of automatic information processing in reading. Cognitive Psycholog, 6, 293-323.


Pressly, M., Hilden, K., & Shankland, R. (2005). An evaluation of end-of-grade 3 Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS): Speed reading without comprehension, predicting little. East Lansing: Michigan State University Literacy Achievement Research Center.


Rasinski, T (2000). Speed does matter in reading. The Reading Teacher, 54(2), 146-51.


Skinner, C., Cooper, L., and Cole, C (1997). The effects of oral presentation previewing rates on reading performance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 331-3.

Internal Links


FluencyAutomaticityDIBELSsight word recognitionacceleration phenomenon
raudingword callingpatternsIndexConnectionist (PDP) models of reading

External Links


Assessing Reading Fluency by Timothy V. Rasinski, Ph.D.


Rate and Fluency from the National Institute for Literacy


Fluency: A Review of Developmental and Remedial Practices by Melanie R. Kuhn and Steven A. Stahl


Oral Fluency Assessment Calculator


Determining Who Needs Fluency Training



Hey ladies, I wanted to praise you for the amount of information ya'll brought to the table, job well done!

As I read your page, the first thing that struck me as needing a bit of adjustment was your intro. paragraph. I had to re-read it a couple of times to get the gist of what you were REALLY trying to say. I know that if I was unschooled in fluency the wording in this section would have been very confusing to me. Your first sentence says, " The goal in Fluency instruction is not fast reading, although that often happens to be a byproduct of the instruction, but fluent and meaning-filled reading" and even after reading ti few times I'm still lost. What do you mean when you say, "although that often happens to be a byproduct of the instruction, but fluent and meaning-filled reading"? Maybe you could say something like, "Although reading rate plays an inmoprtant role, it is not the primary goal of fluency instruction. Other significant factors in fluency are ......

Commentary by: Maleesa Redish

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