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József Nagy: The diagnostic and criterion-referenced assessment of the development of the skill of word reading

It has been obvious for decades that there are dire problems with the acquisition of reading ability (the ability to comprehend written texts) in Hungary. Still, there are no considerable advances in either the identification of causes and remedies or in promoting more effective instruction. Consequently, there is no advance in the level of the acquisition of reading ability. A thorough analysis of research results from all over the world revealed that the basic problem is the absence of the preconditions for successful acquisition, i.e. the lack of critical skills. The immediate precondition of the optimal acquisition and operation of reading ability is the appropriate developmental level of the skill of sentence reading. This is impossible without the optimal functioning of the skill of word reading, which is, in turn, conditional on the skill of letter reading. Finally, the critical condition of beginning reading instruction is the optimal functioning of the phonological skill. This paper gives an overview of the results of a comprehensive empirical study on the skill of word reading. The basis of the skill of word reading is the critical vocabulary and fluency. 95–96% of everyday texts are made up of the most frequent 5,000 words of a language, thus the precondition of the optimal operation of the skill of word reading is the knowledge of these words (and concepts). A second precondition is their fluent reading and recognition (reading automatically, at a glance, as modelled by parallel distributed processing). A battery of 10 equivalent test versions covering the 5,000 most frequent Hungarian words was developed and administered to a nationally representative sample of students in grades 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, at the beginning of the academic year. The diagnostic map of the knowledge of the 5,000 tested words was constructed and the criterion-referenced diagnosis of the acquisition of fluency was given. The instruments and the criteria are appropriate to establish for each child how far they have progressed relative to optimal acquisition and what is to be done for them to reach the optimal functioning of the skill of reading. As regards national performance, two results are especially revealing. 39% of students in grade 8 lack the fluent skill of word reading; they can but spell word letter by letter and are, thus, functionally illiterate. At the same time, 13% of students having completed grade 1 are ready to become fluent readers. This means that by the age of 7 and 8 the acquisition of the reading skill is not dependent of maturation. Everyone with sound mental capacities can become an accomplished reader, provided the traditional culture of reading instruction is renewed.

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 104. Number 2. 123-142. (2004)

Levelezési cím / Address for correspondence: Nagy József, Szegedi Tudományegyetem Neveléstudományi Tanszék, H–6722 Szeged, Petőfi S. sgt. 30–34.


Magyar Tudományos Akadémia