Janet L. Powell
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication
a significant increase in test usage across the country, numerous issues surrounding
the testing of reading remain unresolved. (See Johnston, 1986.) How validly it
reflects what people actually do when they read is the most important consideration
of any reading test. Construct validity--whether the test actually measures aspects
of the behavior under consideration--is of particular importance if one is to
rely on test scores to direct instruction, predict performance, or determine accountability.
In 1917, Thorndike (see 1971 reprint), who defined reading as reasoning, helped
promote the examination of reading as a cognitive process as thought guided by
printed symbols (Farr and Roser, 1979).
WE MEASURING PROCESS?
slowly but continually emerging trend to recognize reading as a thinking process
has been at the core of the controversies over the validity of various forms of
reading assessment. Many critics of reading tests claim that most current approaches
to the assessment of reading comprehension remain--as they have always been--measures
of reading comprehension as a product of a reader's interaction with a text. Unable
to assess the processes involved in comprehension, the tests measure comprehension
as required responses that are the products of reading (Johnston, 1983).
all methods of assessing reading are indirect, even those that claim to directly
assess reading processes. We cannot actually see the processes involved; we can
only infer how a reader has comprehended. Therefore, all scores or data produced
by tests of reading are indirect measures of the reading process.
product of reading should, however, reflect the process the test-taker uses to
generate the responses that produce a reading comprehension test score. That is
to say that one ought to be able to assume that differences in test scores across
test-takers and testing instances will reflect differences in the processes used
to read the test passage and to respond as directed. How directly the two relate
has never been determined; nor do we know how effectively test results can inform
and direct the teaching of reading behaviors--even when those behaviors appear
to be very similar to those that produce the test product. How well tests that
do not emphasize or examine product might direct instruction that purports to
develop process is a matter even less well understood.
(1986) states that "the manuals of most standardized tests make very explicit
the fact that the test will not provide information about a pupil's reading processes,
but only information about the product of reading." However, he continues
by saying that "...one could argue that the product--or score--isn't valid
if a pupil doesn't use the actual processes of reading in determining the answers."
The validity question that surrounds the tests thus seems to be whether or not
taking the test appears to change the processes involved in comprehension and
to solicit significantly atypical reading processes.
FOCUSES ON PROCESS
reader's awareness of thought processes involved in reading has recently come
to be known as metacognition, and test designers are now including items that
supposedly measure this (Aronson and Farr, 1988). The general knowledge of the
reader guides him or her in monitoring comprehension processes through the selection
and implementation of specific strategies to achieve some predetermined goal or
purpose for reading. The chief idea involved in metacognition is that learners
must actively monitor their use of thinking processes--that they must be aware
of how they are processing information--and that they can then regulate them according
to the purpose for reading. The interest in metacognition among reading educators
has led to an exploration of procedures to collect data on thinking processes.
Data collection on mental processes has become known as introspective data--concurrent
and retrospective verbal reports. Concurrent verbal reports are collected as the
subject is engaged in the reading task. These types of reports have been criticized
for interfering with the normal processes of reading (Nisbett and Wilson, 1977;
Garner, 1982). Retrospective verbal reports are collected after the subject has
completed the reading task. These types of reports have been criticized because
subjects may forget or inaccurately recall the mental processes they employed
while completing the task (Afflerbach and Johnston, 1984).
are differences of opinion as to the validity and reliability of verbal report
data in general. However, many prominent researchers agree that verbal reports,
when they are elicited with care and interpreted with full understanding of the
circumstances under which they were obtained, are valuable and thoroughly reliable
sources of information about cognitive processes (Afflerbach and Johnston, 1984).
REPORTS MAY REVEAL READING PROCESSES
that focuses on the metacognitive aspects of reading while taking a reading test
comprise only a very small portion of the literature. At least three studies,
however, have used verbal reports to investigate reading processes as subjects
are engaged in taking reading comprehension tests. Using concurrent verbal reports,
Wingenbach (1984) examined the comprehension processes employed by twenty gifted
readers in grades 4 through 7 to identify the metacognitive strategies they employed
as they read the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, a multiple-choice standardized reading
found that subjects reported using a variety of reading strategies to comprehend
the text and to answer the questions. The strategies included using context clues,
rereading, inferencing, personal identification with the text, and imagery. Wingenbach
did not use as a comparison any other text types, making it impossible to determine
whether or not the subject's mental processing was different on the test than
on any other reading task.
and Ratekin (1982) conducted a study with 98 "average" seventh-grade
and eighth-grade subjects. The subjects completed a multiple-choice test and an
essay test. Only retrospective reports were collected. Results of an analysis
of the verbal protocols revealed that 55 subjects reported using only one reading
strategy, while 30 reported using two or more. Thirteen subjects were unable to
recall any specific strategy. In the report, Alvermann and Ratekin elaborate only
on the statistically significant differences in strategies. They found that subjects
who read to respond on an essay test "reread" more frequently than students
who read the same passage knowing they will respond to multiple-choice items.
In addition, subjects who read to complete an essay test reported using multiple
strategies nearly twice as often as students who read for a multiple-choice test.
differences that were not statistically significant, may be important nevertheless.
An examination of a chart representing the frequency of reported strategies shows
that students read for details twice as often in the multiple-choice test as they
did in the essay test. There were four reports of imaging (forming a picture of
the text) in the essay test compared to one in the multiple-choice test. Subjects
made a personal connection with the text an average of seven times when taking
the multiple-choice test but only three during the essay test.
use of only retrospective verbal reports severely limits the conclusions made
by the researchers. When retrospection alone is used, the chances that the subjects
forgot the mental processes they employed are greatly enhanced. In addition, the
differences found may have been due to individual or group differences rather
than task-related differences. There is little information in the report to support
that the two groups were equivalent.
(1988) conducted a study with nine proficient sixth-grade readers. All the subjects
were observed, and they provided concurrent verbal reports as they were engaged
in multiple-choice tests, cloze tests, written retellings, and a nonassessed reading
task. The subjects gave retrospective verbal reports afterward. Twenty-one reading
processes were identified from the verbal reports. The overall conclusions of
this investigation indicated that the reading processes did differ as subjects
were engaged in each of the tasks. The task which elicited behavior the most different
from the other three was the cloze test. Subjects reported rereading and using
context clues a great deal more on this task than on any of the others. They tied
prior knowledge to the text and paraphrased the text a great deal less than in
performing the other reading tasks.
multiple-choice test and the written retellings, on the other hand, were very
similar to each other and to the nonassessed reading task. The subjects reported
tying prior knowledge in with the text, visualizing what was happening in the
text, and paraphrasing the text almost with equal frequency across all three tasks.
Therefore, within the limitations of the Powell study, it can be concluded that
multiple-choice tests and written retellings had construct validity. While the
scores (products) of these tests may not reveal direct information on the processes
students use to complete them, the tasks do appear to involve mental processes
that have long been associated with reading.
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Journal of Reading Behavior, 16 (4), 1984, pp. 307-322.
Donne, and Ratekin, Ned. "Metacognitive knowledge about reading proficiency:
Its relation to study strategies and task demands." Paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 1982.
Edith, and Farr, Roger. "Issues in assessment," Journal of Reading,
32 (2), November 1988, pp. 174-177.
Roger. "A response to Hoopfer and Hunsberger," Forum in Reading and
Language Education, October 1986, pp. 129-133.
Roger, and Roser, Nancy. Teaching a child to read. New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich,
Ruth. "Verbal-report data on reading strategies," Journal of Reading
Behavior, 14 (2), 1982, pp. 159-167.
Peter. Reading comprehension assessment: A cognitive basis. Newark, Delaware:
International Reading Association, 1983, 102 pp. ED 226 338
Peter. "Assessing the process and the process of assessment in the language
arts." In James Squire (Ed.), The dynamics of language learning: Research
in the language arts. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English,
1986, 420 pp. ED 280 080
D.; Burland, S.; Gruson, L.; and Cameron, R. Metacognitive assessment. In S. R.
Yussen (Ed.), The growth of reflection in children. Orlando: Academic Press, 1985.
and Wilson, Timothy. (1977). "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports
on mental processes," Psychological Review, 84 (3), 1977, pp. 231-259.
Janet L. "An examination of comprehension processes used by readers as they
engage in different forms of assessment. "Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation,
Indiana University, 1988. 196 pp. ED 298 449
Edward. "Reading as reasoning: A study of mistakes in paragraph reading,"
Reading Research Quarterly, 6 (4), 1971 reprint of original 1917 article, pp.
Nancy (1984). "The gifted reader: Metacognition and comprehension strategies."
Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers
of English, Spring Conference, 1984. 29pp. ED 243 093
publication was prepared (Digest#41, EDO-CS-89-04, Jun 1989) with funding from
the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RI88062001, and published
by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.