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How the FAR helped two students go FAR-ther

According to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 37% of fourth graders and 30% of eighth graders scored below NAEP basic levels in reading. Reading is a fundamental skill for student success.

Reading difficulties occur on a continuum—there are a wide range of students who need support, ranging from targeted reading assistance to those who are diagnosed with a specific learning disability.

The following two cases show how schools were able to use the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) to get the root of why a student was struggling with reading—and how those results were able to better help them to thrive.

Betty: A Case Study of Using the FAR to Diagnose a Learning Disability

The concern

Betty is 7 years old and a second grader at a large elementary school in the Midwest. Betty’s classroom teacher noticed she showed some difficulties with her overall reading readiness skills and general academic progress.

Background from teachers and family

Mrs. Friedman, Betty’s classroom teacher, had some concerns with Betty’s basic decoding skills. She noticed she frequently reversed letters and numbers when writing. After putting Betty into a more targeted reading group, Mrs. Friedman observed that Betty attempted to sound out words initially, but then would guess the rest of the word. She was concerned about Betty’s progress and her failure to respond to targeted reading interventions.

Although Betty was meeting most reading benchmark goals, her reading fluency rate was assessed as being well below her classmates.

According to Betty’s mother, reading was becoming more of a struggle at home. Betty was becoming reluctant to read, even becoming upset when she was read to, and was increasingly frustrated by her struggles in school.

Betty was referred to Dr. Green, a school psychologist in her district, for a comprehensive assessment using the FAR.

Test results

Dr. Green administered the FAR to Betty and scored the measure via PARiConnect. After looking at her scores and the interpretive report, Dr. Green was able to better understand the areas in which Betty was struggling as well as her areas of strength.

Betty obtained a FAR Total Index score in the below average range and in the 13th percentile compared with her peers. Diving deeper into her FAR scores revealed important data specific to the different areas where she most needed support:

  • Betty demonstrated considerable difficulty blending sounds in words as well as deconstructing words by natural syllable breaks.
  • Betty strug­gled with higher-level phonemic awareness skills, such as adding, deleting, or manipulating different sounds within a word, as well as with the working memory demands needed to manipulate sounds.
  • Betty showed difficulty applying decoding skills to unfamiliar words in print; specifically, she demonstrated errors with most vowel digraph letter patterns.
  • Betty had far greater difficulty answering inferential questions than answering literal questions.
  • Betty had difficulty automatically recognizing words whether reading out loud or silently. Betty’s scores indicate that she devotes most of her cognitive resources to deciphering the visual word form and struggles to con­sistently derive meaning from print.

However, Betty’s FAR scores showed several areas of relative strengths in her reading skills:

  • Betty per­formed well on tasks that involved alphabet recogni­tion skills.
  • Betty scored highly on her overall knowledge of word meanings and structures.
  • Betty was able to self-organize verbal information in an organized manner, greatly facilitating her recall.
  • Betty benefits from the use of a visual cue to hold and maintain a sequence of sounds.
  • Betty memorizes whole words but does not yet pos­sess the skills to decode and blend individual words by sounds or syllable breaks.

Recommendations and interventions

Dr. Green determined that Betty’s overall reading skills are consistent with dysphonetic dyslexia, meaning she has difficulty sounding out words phonologically. Dr. Green was able to work with Mrs. Friedman to develop targeted interventions based on Betty’s specific areas of weakness.

Examinees with scores similar to Betty generally have difficulty spelling words due to an inability to hold and maintain an orthographic repre­sentation of the printed word form in the mind’s eye. This suggests she would benefit from reading words in context so she can use semantic cues to assist with word identification. Betty’s ability to retain an image of the visual word form in her mind’s eye and her reading speed are problematic, effectively limiting her ability to recog­nize words in an automatic fashion.

Going forward, Betty’s reading interventions will focus on implementing an explicit phonics approach to reading that focuses on developing automaticity with sounds and families of sounds so that Betty can develop greater automaticity with printed words.

Furthermore, Betty’s overall language development skills are an area of strength. However, she tends to over rely on seman­tic cues to derive meaning from print. Still, seeing words in context is very beneficial and can assist her in anticipating the next word.

The outcome

Betty’s team was able to create targeted reading interventions that worked with her specific needs. Mrs. Friedman reports seeing growth in Betty’s skills as well as her confidence while reading in class.

Betty’s mom even reported that Betty was excited to sign up for a new program at their local library—and she was thrilled when Betty checked out a stack of new books for them to read together at home! And thanks to the new strategies, homework has become less of a struggle.

Dr. Green checks in with Betty periodically to monitor response-to-intervention and is pleased with her progress.

Kai: A Case Study of Using the FAR to Pinpoint Reading Deficits

The concern

Kai is 12 years, 11 months old and in seventh grade at small middle school in the southwest U.S. He has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and receives direct special education services in accordance with his individualized education plan (IEP). His teachers are concerned that weak reading comprehension skills may be influencing his performance in school.

Background from teachers and family

Kai’s parents are concerned by his various obsessions and preoccupations, including counting objects repeatedly. They also say that he displays several sensory aversions, specifically when it comes to loud and unexpected noises, the smell of certain foods, and the feeling of scratchy fabrics.

His classroom teachers have voiced concern over his inattentive behavior in class and his poor reading comprehension skills. Kai’s special education teacher, Mr. O’Dell, said that he tends to repeat things he hears in class, whether that is instructions given by the teacher, conversations he overhears between other students, or schoolwide announcements.

Kai relies heavily on routines and dislikes when the schedule deviates from the norm. He also is fairly literal in his comprehension of language and is sometimes confused by phrases used by his classmates or teachers. His teachers feel strongly that he is capable of producing grade-level work, but believe that his inattentive behaviors, cognitive inflexibility, and difficulty deriving meaning from print are influencing his school performance.

Kai was given the FAR by Mr. O’Dell to see if they could better pinpoint the reading concerns brought by Kai’s teaching team.

Test results

Kai was administered the FAR in person and the scores were put into PARiConnect. The FAR Interpretive Report pointed to several areas where Kai could use additional support, as well as several areas of strength.

Kai received a FAR Total Index in the average range and in the 50th percentile compared with his classmates. Upon a closer look at his FAR scores, Kai had many areas of strength:

  • Kai performed extremely well when blending, segmenting, or manipulating phonemes within words. He also did well when isolating sounds within words.
  • Kai showed an aptitude for decoding nonsense words and was even able to do this easily with longer words of four to five syllables.
  • Kai demonstrated very strong reading skills and was equally proficient at reading words in isolation from an extended word list as he was at reading words within a story.
  • Kai did well on tasks that involved his perceptions of letters and his ability to hold and retain a visual–spatial image of the printed word form. Individuals who do well on these tasks are often strong spellers because they are able to visualize words accurately. 
  • Kai also scored highly on tasks involving good automaticity and pace when reading aloud.

Despite many areas of strength, there were some areas of weakness:

  • Kai read aloud in a monotone voice with little inflection or emotional expression.
  • Kai performed somewhat inconsistently when asked to quickly retrieve various words from memory and repeated the same words frequently, suggesting he may be cognitively inflexible with his language skills.
  • Kai’s overall knowledge of word meanings was somewhat weak, demonstrating that he struggles with the deeper understanding of word structures.
  • Kai received low scores in overall reading comprehension, which was especially notable when asked inferential rather than literal questions.

Recommendations and interventions

The school psychologist, Mr. O’Dell, and key members of Kai’s teaching team met to go over his FAR results. His overall reading profile was suggestive of hyperlexia, which is characterized by strong decoding and word identification skills but significant difficulty with comprehension skills. The large range between Kai’s scores suggests he has good decoding and phonological processing skills but has difficulty deriving meaning from print.

The FAR scores helped the team focus on the fact that Kai struggled particularly with inferential questions about passages and seemed to lack the executive functioning skills to self-organize verbal information in a way that encouraged later recall. They decided to add a reading intervention that focuses on using visual cues to optimize language abilities.

They also decided it would be beneficial to use story maps and other prereading activities to help him self-organize verbal information prior to reading text.

Although Kai was very adept when doing rote tasks, he did not perform as well on tasks that require the rapid retrieval of specific words in his vocabulary. This suggests that Kai’s speed of recognizing the word was much stronger than his speed of retrieval of language-based information. Examinees with scores like this are often better at using orthographic cues, as opposed to semantic or language-based cues, to recognize words.

The outcome

After implementing the interventions based on FAR scores, Kai’s team met again near the end of the semester later to determine if the interventions were effective. They noted he has made strides in his comprehension skills and is attempting to be more flexible with language—even adopting some of the phrasing and slang used by classmates. They will be adding speech pathology to his IEP to help support better communication and social interaction skills. Kai’s advanced reading and visual abilities are being leveraged as a tool for better language learning.

Mr. O’Dell plans to readminister the FAR again near the end of the school year to determine his response to the interventions provided.

Could the FAR take your students FAR-ther? Learn more!