Those students performing at a below basic proficiency level in reading as measured by the Texas Higher Education Assessment (THEA) are required to register for a Basic Reading & Comprehension course. During the fall 2011 semester, students enrolled in a developmental reading course at a Hispanic-serving regional four-year university in South Texas completed new requirements involving the use of AceReader Online - a newly embedded course component. Permission to participate in this research study, designed to increase word reading speed and comprehension, was obtained from 94 (55 female/39 male) students in the four sections of the course. Participants represented a range of ethnicities: 48% Hispanic, 23% White, 15% International, and 8% Black.
Students were briefed on the course requirements for completion of AceReader Online. Teachers of record provided a tutorial on how to create an account, login, complete the exercises, and take periodic word reading and comprehension assessments. Through tachistoscopic scroll presentation and rapid serial visual presentation, participants learned to refine their focus during reading and to absorb multiple words at one time. By reducing eye fixation time and expanding the eye fixation zone while increasing eye fixation speed, the online software program aimed to break the habit of eye regression and re-reading. It should be noted that reading words in isolation, albeit rapidly presented, is quite different from reading connected texts found in everyday environments; this type of reading served to improve students’ attention at the word level and to eliminate distractions caused by text overload. The instructors observed the progress of students and reported to the individuals as well as the course supervisor if and when students were behind, on, or above expected levels of module completion. Students were required to complete two levels representing 6-8th grade reading levels according to the Dale-Chall Readability Formula; these two levels were selected due to the estimated reading levels of the students enrolled in the courses over the past decade. However, individual reading levels varied widely between participants with some students likely below, equal to, and above the range of reading levels of the selected passages. Typically, each module was completed within 5-10 minutes, though students progressed at their own pace.
Students established a Base Reading Speed (BRS) by taking a pretest for reading speed before beginning the eye training exercises in the online portal. The students’ BRS were determined via a timed reading selection of a leveled passage. Readers were required to score a 75% on comprehension questions for the BRS to be recorded. The results set the speed of reading for students during the subsequent drills. Instructors collected data on literacy elements including: pretest - words per minute (pre WPM), posttest - words per minute (post WPM), pretest - comprehension score, and posttest - comprehension score.