Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School Psychology

Major Professor

Christopher H. Skinner

Committee Members

David Cihak, Sherry Bain, Dennis Ciancio


Words correct per minute (WCPM) scores, derived from oral reading fluency (ORF) assessments, are used, in part, to make decisions regarding special education eligibility. WCPM scores are sensitive to environmental factors such as the presence of a stopwatch, administrator characteristics, and instructions. Using sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade middle school students, we replicate and extend previous research on the effects of environmental prompts on ORF scores by instructing students to read fast and investigating the reading skill-by-instructions interaction. We also evaluated how students who had been were instructed to read fast (phase two) responded to subsequent (phase three) standard instructions and standard instructions plus a requirement to answer comprehension questions.

Both Experiment I and II revealed that when students were instructed to read fast, as opposed to read their best, they increased their WCPM and errors. In Experiment I, a two-by-three mixed model ANOVA revealed a significant interaction between reading skill and instructions. When instructed to read fast, those with stronger reading skills had significantly larger increases in WCPM and smaller increases in errors. This interaction was not found in Experiment II. One explanation for these discrepant findings relates to differences in the difficulty level of passages used in the two studies. During Experiment I, harder passages were assigned to the read fast phase. Harder passages may have caused weaker readers more difficulty than stronger readers, which could account for the significant interaction.

During Experiment II, within-subject analyses were used to assess how students who were instructed to read fast during phase two responded to standard instructions and standard instructions plus comprehension questions during phase three. Both groups altered their reading based on the new instructions and their WCPM and error scores decreased, approaching their phase one (standard instructions) levels. These findings, which showed that students responded to differences in instructions with significant increases and decreases in their WCPM, have applied implications for the administration of ORF assessments within Response to Intervention (RtI) programs. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

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