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A Lexical Analysis of Informal Reading Inventory Graded Word Lists

 

Michael P. French

Bowling Green State University

 

As assessment of children’s reading abilities becomes of more concern to teachers, the use of informal reading inventories has become of interest to researchers and policy makers alike (Paris & Carpenter, 2003; Paris, Paris, & Carpenter, 2001; Paris & Hoffman, 2004). The use of the IRI has been suggested for assessing children’s oral reading rate, accuracy of decoding, fluency, comprehension, and retelling (Paris, Paris, & Carpenter, 2001; Tompkins, 2003). Although the content of these inventories varies, virtually all contain graded word lists in some form (Cooper & Kiger, 2005).

Graded word lists can be used for various purposes. According to Richek, Caldwell, Jennings, and Learner (1996), a student’s performance on word lists can provide important diagnostic information about word recognition abilities. (p. 50) Tompkins (2003) states that students read the lists until they reach a point that is too difficult for them indicating the level at which the graded passages are begun (p. 80).  Bader (2002) states, “...a graded word list may be used as a starting point in administering graded reading passages or to gain additional insight into the types of word recognition errors made.” (p. 20).

Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is to describe the similarities and differences between words included in the graded lists on six different informal reading inventories published after 2001 through a formal lexical analysis. This analysis seeks to describe how the word lists differ in length of words, inclusion of words at multiple levels, and the words that appear on different inventories.

Development of Word Lists in Informal Reading Inventories

Without question, the learning of words from lists is a staple of early reading instruction. Beginning with Thorndike in 1921 to Dolch in 1932, these lists of words have been used for both instruction and assessment (Kauffman, 2000). According to McCormick (2003), informal inventory word lists are generally used for two purposes: 1) to determine the level of passages to be read in oral reading assessment, and 2) to provide information about the student’s ability to decode words in isolation without the context of phrases and sentences (p. 96). 

Among the various informal inventories reviewed there is not consistency in reporting how word lists are developed. Some authors of inventories used in this study carefully describe the process by which the word lists in the inventories were composed. For example, Johns (2001) provides an in depth explanation of how the 20 word lists in the Basic Reading Inventory were constructed.   His word lists were derived in part from the EDL Core Vocabularies and Basic Skills Work List: Grades 1-12 (pp. 112-117). The usability of the lists was also assessed in a pilot study described in the manual.  Leslie and Caldwell (200) state that the sight words that comprise the QRI-3 lists came from the passages and were checked for readability level using the Standard Frequency Index (p. 414).

On the other hand, other authors provide little of no technical information about the development of the word lists in their assessments. This was the case with the Classroom Reading Inventory, Ninth Edition (Silvaroli & Wheelock, 2001). In the appendix of their inventory, Woods and Moe (2003) provide information on the development of the passages but not the word lists (pp. 263-268).  Bader (2002) indicated the use of graded word lists (unspecified) and “readers that appeared to be appropriate to each level” (p.159). Bader further reported that a comparison of her word lists to the Slosson Oral Reading Test and found a correlation of 0.92 (p. 159).

Method

Six informal inventories were selected for analysis based on year of publication and inclusion of word lists between Pre-Primer (PP) and grade 6. If an inventory included word lists for grades seven and eight, these were not used in the analysis. The inventories selected for this study were the Critical Reading Inventory (Applegate, Quinn, & Applegate, 2004), the Bader Reading and Language Inventory (Bader, 2002), the Basic Reading Inventory (Johns, 2001), the Qualitative Reading Inventory (Leslie & Caldwell’s 2001), the Classroom Reading Inventory (Silvaroli &Wheelock, 2001), and the Analytical Reading Inventory (Woods & Moe, 2003).

To prepare the lists for analysis, each sight word list (grades PP-6) was entered into an Excel spreadsheet. This enabled the investigator to alphabetize the lists for review, and to count the letters of each word as well as to determine average length of words per grade.  Each list was coded according to grade level and inventory title. This allowed the investigator to compare the lists more easily. To frame the analysis in this study, the author was informed by the work of Hiebert and Martin (2004). In their discussion of children’s word learning they differentiate between uniqueness in highly meaningful words, highly regular words, and high frequency words. Of particular interest were the identification of unique words--words that appeared only in one inventory list--and the identification of duplicated words--words that appeared on more than one inventory list.  Further, among the identified duplicated words, the investigation sought to identify at what grade levels these words appeared.  Finally, the corpus of unique words was compared to the original 220-word Dolch List (1945) to ascertain what percentage of this list was used in the inventory lists evaluated.

Results

The first step in the analysis was to count the total number of words used at each grade level across the six different inventories.  Next, at each grade level, duplicate words were removed from the total count to determine the number of unique words.  As defined here, an unique word would be one that appears on only one inventory.  These results are presented in Table 1 below:

Table 1.  Total number of words and total number of unique words by grade level.

 

Grade Level

Total Words

Unique Words

Percentage of Unique Words

Pre-Primer

184

104

56.52%

Primer

250

157

62.80%

One

272

200

73.53%

Two

268

234

87.31%

Three

272

258

94.85%

Four

269

253

94.05%

Five

270

255

94.44%

Six

266

258

96.99%

TOTAL

2051

1719

83.81%

 

As may be expected, the six inventories use many of the same words at the beginning grade levels.  From grade three and higher, the inventories show virtually no overlap in word selection.  Duplicated words were evaluated in two ways.  First, the goal was to compare individual words across grade levels.  This analysis looked at the words that appeared on more than one inventory at the same grade; for example, appearing at grade three on two different inventories.  In all, 242 words were identified (See Appendix A).  This is approximately 14% of the words identified.  At the lower levels, a set of four words--he, the, saw, went--appeared on all six inventories

The next step in the analysis was to identify words that appeared on more than one list, but at different grade levels.  In all, 175 individual words were identified that were present on more than one grade level list (See Appendix B).  This represents a little more than 10% of the words reviewed.  The most extreme example was the word “morning.”  This word appeared on five different inventories.  At the lowest, this word was included on a pre-primer list.  At the highest, it was included on a grade 4 list.

Next, using the average length of words was evaluated using only unique words.  The results of this analysis are shown in Table 2 below:


Table 2.  Total number of unique words and average length by grade level.

 

Grade Level

Unique Words

Percentage of Unique Words

Pre-Primer

104

3.60

Primer

157

3.95

One

200

4.50

Two

234

5.09

Three

258

5.84

Four

253

6.66

Five

255

7.03

Six

258

7.94

 

 

As illustrated in Table 2, the length of the words increases by grade level.  Word length is one indicator of linguistic complexity.  Ability to read longer words has been correlated to spelling achievement and recognition of contextual vocabulary (Fry, 1977).

The final level of analysis was to compare the words on the inventories to the original list by Dolch (1945).  There are 220 words on the standard Dolch List.  Roughly 78%, or 171 of these words were included on one or more of the inventories evaluated (See Appendix C).  As would be expected, many of these appeared in the first three grades.  Of the words that appeared at more than one level, 41% came from the Dolch List.

Discussion

            The purpose of the present study was to compare word lists from six representative informal reading inventories.  The lists were compared based on uniqueness of the words selected by the inventory authors, the average lengths of the words, placement of the words on more than one grade level, and inclusion of Dolch words.  As reported, the following summarizes the findings of the analysis:

1.         There was more duplication of word selection at the lower grade levels.  Given the finding that 78% of words included in the Dolch list were identified, this finding makes sense.  The Dolch list is designed for readers below grade 3.

2.         The average length of words included on the lists increases with grade level.  Since word length is a factor in many readability formulas, this also appears to be a predicted finding.

3.         More unique words are identified in the upper grades.  As previously stated, the inclusion of words from the Dolch list at the lower level accounts for the duplication of words at these levels.  Accordingly, in the upper grades (three and higher), the lists appear to be more unique.

4.         A relatively low percentage of words were found on more than one grade level—a little more than 10%. 

5.         The Dolch list is highly represented.  78% of the words on the Dolch list were included in one or more of the word lists.  Of the duplicated words, 41% came from the Dolch list.

Informal reading inventories (IRIs) are a staple component in reading assessment.  Each is unique based on their individual word lists, reading passages, and other types of informal assessment protocols.  As a result of this investigation, one should question whether informal inventories are interchangeable.  That is, are the results on one likely to reliably predict results on another?  With regard to the word lists on the six inventories investigated, the answer is likely to be “yes and no.”  The results of word list reading at the lower grades are more likely to be reliable across inventories due to the relative high degree of duplication—especially in regard to Dolch words.  On the other hand, due the high number of unique words at the higher grade levels, comparing performance on these lists may be less reliable.

Some may want to use sight word lists to determine a student’s reading level.  There should be questions about this approach, however. In some IRIs, for instance, students are simply asked to read lists of words in an untimed condition while in others words are to be presented in a timed condition. Given this variance, it might best not to make decisions about reading levels from word lists but instead to follow the testing procedures of most inventories.  In these cases the word lists are used to determine beginning reading levels for passage reading and to provide information about a student’s decoding abilities.  In not one of the six inventories investigated did the authors indicate that their word lists could be used to determine instructional reading levels. (For research findings in which flashed­ word recognition scores predict instructional reading levels, see Frye and Trathen [2005] in this volume.)

With regard to contemporary practice, how should we view these word lists? First, as indicated above, the word lists function as a critical component of the inventories in which they are found.  Second, they do provide a sampling of words to be used for assessing word recognition and decoding skills.  As such, and as one of multiple measures, the lists provide practical information. Further, one may use word lists for initial screening—followed by more formal assessment of reading skills and strategies.  Finally, in the words of Dolch (1945), “if a child has difficulty in recognizing common words, it is a good thing to discover how many he knows of the 220 words which make up about two-thirds of easy school reading material” (p. 101).  This kind of information is not insignificant—and maybe everything old is truly new again.

 

References

Applegate, M., Quinn, K., and Applegate, A. (2004). Critical reading inventory, the assessing of students’ reading and thinking, 1st Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Bader, L. A. (2002). Bader reading and language inventory, 4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Cooper, J. D., & Kiger, N. D. (2005). Literacy assessment: Helping teachers plan assessment, 2nd Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Dolch, E. W. (1945). A manual for remedial reading. Champaign, IL: The Garrard Press.

Fry, E. (1977). Elementary Reading Instruction. New York: McGraw Hill.

Frye, E., & Trathen, W. (2005)Fluency: Implications for classroom instruction. B. Schlagal (Ed.). Literacy: What’s the next big thing? Yearbook of the American Reading Forum, Vol. 25. American Reading Forum, Appalachian State University.

Hiebert, E. H., & Martin, L. A. (2004). The texts of beginning reading instruction. In R. B. Ruddell & N. J. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes in Reading 5th Edition (pp. 390-411). Newark, DE: IRA.

Johns, J. L. (2001). Basic reading inventory, 8th Edition.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Kauffman, S. L. (2000). Development of the Kauffman sight word list. Unpublished master’s thesis, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.

Leslie, L., & Caldwell, J. (2001). Qualitative reading inventory-3. New York: Longman.

McCormick, S. (2003). Instructing students who have literacy problems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Paris, S. G., & Carpenter, R. D. (2003). FAQs about IRIs.  Reading Teacher, 56(6), 578-581.

Paris, S. G., & Hoffman, J. V. (2004). Reading assessments in kindergarten through third grade: Findings from the center for the improvement of early reading achievement. The Elementary School Journal, 105(2), 199-218.

Paris, S. G., Paris, A. H., & Carpenter, R. D. (2001). Effective practices for assessing young readers. CIERA Report #3-013. 

Richek, M. A., Caldwell, J. S., Jennings, J. H., & Lerner, J. W. (1996).  Reading problems: Assessment and teaching strategies. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Silvaroli, N. J., & Wheelock, W. H. (2001). Classroom reading inventory, 9th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Tompkins, G. (2003). Literacy for the 21st century, 3rd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Woods, M. L. & Moe, A. J. (2003). Analytical reading inventory, 7th Edition.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

 


Appendix A: Duplicated Words at Grade Level

(#) Number of inventories on which the words appear.

 

PrePrimer

Primer

Grade 1

Grade 2

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Grade 6

he (6)

saw (6)

before (5)

always (4)

story (3)

nervous (3)

furnish (3)

accomplishment (3)

the

went

children (4)

anyone (3)

arithmetic (2)

concern (2)

bravely (2)

ridiculous

and (5)

day (4)

hear

garden

bread

decorate

embarrass

consideration(2)

can

house

after(3)

teacher

danger

disturb

error

definite

get

little

again

through

food

dozen

guarantee

graceful

like

put

began

afraid (2)

forest

government

ignore

minimum

see

they

could

bad

half

jealous

indication

minor

to

what

drop

beautiful

hang

ocean

magical

nephew

at (4)

are (3)

farm

birthday

honor

official

operation

psychology

go

around

friend

branch

human

prairie

plantation

reluctant

you

came

made

clean

moan

sample

prevent

research

do (3)

come

never

cowboy

nurse

settlers

terrific

technical

in

green

next

dragon

passenger

slope

typical

undergrowth

not

have

there

elephant

removed

vicious

vision

accomplishment

that

new

where

guess

rib

windshield

 

ridiculous

will

now

airplane (2)

hide

wisdom

 

 

consideration

with

out

another

I'd

 

 

 

definite

a (2)

play

bear

job

 

 

 

graceful

about

two

coat

light

 

 

 

 

all

want

cry

mile

 

 

 

 

am

about (2)

farm

mountain

 

 

 

 

but

all

feet

old

 

 

 

 

dog

away

find

part

 

 

 

 

down

big

food

remember

 

 

 

 

good

boy

from

should

 

 

 

 

have

call

give

such

 

 

 

 

her

did

grass

turn

 

 

 

 

here

father

hand

unhappy

 

 

 

 

house

from

happy

 

 

 

 

 

I

funny

how

 

 

 

 

 

is

give

hurry

 

 

 

 

 

look

had

ice

 

 

 

 

 

man

help

laugh

 

 

 

 

 

me

him

leg

 

 

 

 

 

my

into

long

 

 

 

 

 

no

is

men

 

 

 

 

 

one

just

met

 

 

 

 

 

said

know

morning

 

 

 

 

 

she

like

new

 

 

 

 

 

stop

many

night

 

 

 

 

 

was

mother

off

 

 

 

 

 

we

not

pet

 

 

 

 

 

 

of

please

 

 

 

 

 

 

other

ready

 

 

 

 

 

 

our

school

 

 

 

 

 

 

red

shoe

 

 

 

 

 

PrePrimer

Primer

Grade 1

Grade 2

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Grade 6

 

said

sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

said

sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

show

story

 

 

 

 

 

 

some

surprise

 

 

 

 

 

 

something

town

 

 

 

 

 

 

soon

water

 

 

 

 

 

 

take

wish

 

 

 

 

 

 

then

work

 

 

 

 

 

 

thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

was

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

who

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

yes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

your

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appendix B: Words that appear on more than one grade level.

 

Number of Levels

Word

Lowest Grade

Highest Grade

5

morning

pp

4

4

because

p

5

4

through

2

5

3

before

p

2

3

came

pp

1

3

could

pp

1

3

down

pp

1

3

find

pp

1

3

from

pp

1

3

have

pp

2

3

here

pp

1

3

know

pp

2

3

make

pp

1

3

out

pp

p

3

school

pp

1

3

street

pp

2

3

these

p

2

3

thought

1

4

3

will

pp

1

3

with

pp

1

3

work

pp

1

2

about

pp

p

2

afraid

1

2

2

after

p

1

2

again

p

1

2

and

pp

p

2

animal

p

1

2

are

pp

p

2

argument

5

6

2

attractive

4

6

2

away

pp

p

2

ball

p

1

2

be

pp

p

2

been

pp

2

2

big

pp

p

2

bike

1

4

2

birthday

p

2

2

blue

p

1

2

book

pp

p

2

boy

pp

p

2

bread

1

3

2

brown

p

1

2

business

4

5

2

but

pp

p

2

can

pp

p

2

chief

3

4

2

children

p

1

2

choice

3

5

2

college

5

6

Number of Levels

Word

Lowest Grade

Highest Grade

2

come

pp

p

2

communicate

4

6

2

creature

4

5

2

cry

1

2

2

curious

3

5

2

different

2

5

2

doctor

2

3

2

eat

p

1

2

eight

1

3

2

electric

3

4

2

escape

3

4

2

family

1

2

2

farm

pp

1

2

fast

1

2

2

father

p

1

2

fight

1

2

2

fish

p

1

2

fly

p

1

2

food

1

2

2

friend

pp

1

2

get

pp

p

2

giant

1

5

2

girl

pp

p

2

give

p

1

2

goat

pp

p

2

good

pp

p

2

government

4

5

2

graceful

5

6

2

green

p

1

2

had

pp

p

2

happy

pp

1

2

has

pp

1

2

heard

1

3

2

help

p

2

2

her

pp

1

2

home

pp

p

2

house

pp

p

2

human

3

4

2

if

pp

p

2

in

pp

p

2

invitation

4

5

2

is

pp

p

2

island

3

4

2

jungle

4

5

2

law

2

3

2

liberty

4

5

2

light

1

2

2

like

pp

p

2

little

p

1

2

live

p

1

2

love

1

2

2

man

pp

p

Number of Levels

Word

Lowest Grade

Highest Grade

2

matter

2

3

2

medicine

4

5

2

moan

3

5

2

mother

p

1

2

mountain

2

6

2

much

p

1

2

my

pp

1

2

necessary

5

6

2

need

p

2

2

never

p

1

2

new

p

1

2

no

pp

p

2

not

pp

p

2

now

pp

p

2

of

pp

p

2

old

1

2

2

on

pp

p

2

open

1

2

2

or

pp

1

2

other

pp

p

2

over

pp

p

2

painful

5

6

2

parachute

4

5

2

party

pp

1

2

passenger

3

4

2

people

2

4

2

pet

1

2

2

picnic

1

3

2

pilot

3

4

2

precious

3

4

2

put

p

1

2

ride

p

1

2

run

p

1

2

said

pp

p

2

saw

p

1

2

see

pp

p

2

seventeen

4

6

2

she

pp

p

2

should

2

3

2

silence

3

4

2

some

pp

p

2

song

1

2

2

soon

pp

p

2

sound

1

2

2

stop

pp

p

2

story

1

2

2

take

pp

p

2

telephone

2

3

2

that

pp

p

2

there

p

1

2

thermometer

5

6

2

they

p

1

Number of Levels

Word

Lowest Grade

Highest Grade

2

thing

p

1

2

think

p

3

2

thirty

2

3

2

this

pp

p

2

three

p

1

2

together

1

3

2

top

1

2

2

train

pp

p

2

turn

p

2

2

under

p

1

2

unhappy

2

3

2

vehicle

5

6

2

violet

4

6

2

wagon

p

1

2

was

pp

p

2

water

1

3

2

went

pp

p

2

what

pp

p

2

when

1

2

2

who

pp

p

2

wish

pp

1

2

yesterday

3

4

 


Appendix C: Dolch words that appear in the inventory word lists.

a

did

help

new

show

want

about

do

her

no

sing

warm

after

does

here

not

sleep

was

again

done

him

now

so

we

all

don't

his

of

some

went

always

down

hurt

off

soon

what

am

drink

if

old

start

when

an

eat

in

on

stop

where

and

eight

into

one

take

which

are

every

is

open

ten

white

around

far

it

or

thank

who

as

fast

its

our

that

why

ask

find

jump

out

the

will

at

first

just

over

their

wish

away

fly

keep

own

then

with

be

for

kind

play

there

work

because

from

know

please

these

would

been

funny

laugh

pull

they

write

before

gave

light

put

think

yes

big

get

like

ran

this

you

black

give

little

read

those

your

blue

go

live

red

three

 

brown

going

look

ride

to

 

but

good

made

round

today

 

call

green

make

run

together

 

came

grow

many

said

under

 

can

had

me

saw

up

 

clean

has

much

say

upon

 

come

have

my

see

us

 

could

he

never

she

walk