Predictive Reading Assessment Offers Educators a Strong New Tool

PAR Teacher Manual

Though it began with a proposal to study dyslexia, two decades of research has brought neuropsychologist Frank Wood to a different point as a scientist-an advocate for children to read.

Wood, PhD, is a retired Wake Forest School of Medicine professor who through his research developed the Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR). The PAR is a 10- to 15-minute, four-part test that analyzes children's reading skills and predicts their success years later if no intervention is given. The test, which can be given the spring before children enter kindergarten, as well as to kindergarteners through third graders, focuses on:

  • Picture vocabulary
  • Letter or word calling
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Rapid naming

A coveted U.S. patent was granted to the PAR in 2012, 10 years after the application was submitted, because its scoring engines are based on science. It has won national recognition for its accuracy, and is being marketed, together with remediation tools, through two private companies to parents, educators, school systems and state agencies. 

Wood says the need to get children to read-from the earliest time possible and with a rich collection of material-is crucial.

"Civilization itself depends upon children growing up knowing their several millennia of heritage as a civilization. That heritage is in writing, and reading is a much faster way to gather information than listening to people talk or watching programs on television,'' Wood says.

"It's the cultures across history that have emphasized reading ... that have made the greatest achievements. That's true around the world.''

A Better Reading Assessment

Erika Gray first saw the PAR in action seven years ago when she was a teacher at Konnoak Elementary School in Winston-Salem, where the test was being used as part of a yearlong trial. Gray, PhD, has since become director of the reading clinic at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is consulting for Red-e Set Grow, a Clemmons company marketing the PAR to school systems.

She says the PAR is better than other assessment tests because of "its ability to reliably predict exactly which areas of reading kids need help with. It doesn't just show they're behind in reading; it suggests specific areas … where the kids need the most instruction in order to move forward.''

She says one of the test's strengths is the reliability and validity of the data that drives scoring, something she says is not common with many assessments.

Likewise, Ruth Steidinger, EdD, senior director of academic programs and support for Wake County Schools, worked with the PAR during a 2004-05 trial run in her system. She says the assessment "gave us information that we didn't have.'' From there, teachers could develop appropriate lessons around the needs of individual children based on the predictor of assessment. Over the year the assessment was used, she says, students made "some noteworthy gains.''

That doesn't always translate to marketing success for products such as the PAR.

Initially, the PAR was marketed through Child's Mind Publishing, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wake Forest Baptist. Once the patent was granted and strong reviews continued, it made licensing the PAR easier. Besides Red-e Set Grow's efforts to sell the test to schools and school systems, an online company, Palm Publishing, is marketing it direct to parents and other individual users.

Wood says many school systems have long-held testing systems and are loathe to move away from established programs.

"If you build a better mousetrap, you still have to compete in the marketplace with those who are making the old-fashioned mousetrap,'' he says. "But I look forward to that.''

Keeping Students Engaged

When Michael Batalia arrived at Wake Forest Baptist 11 years ago at the licensing office, it was shortly after helping his former employer, North Carolina State University, sell a textbook program for a statewide social studies curriculum. Though he was coming to a medical environment, Batalia kept his mind open to the possibilities.

"Commercialization can be based on everything from therapeutics to software to diagnostic materials,'' says Batalia, PhD, executive director of Product Innovation and Commercialization Services for Wake Forest Innovations. "It's not limited to a drug. You can have success with lots of different types of technology.''

The long, slow climb of the PAR to recognition, patent and licensing comes at a time when parents are getting more involved in their children's education and during an online learning boom. Both of those factors could help efforts to sell the test.

Dean Caldwell, president of Red-e Set Grow, says he's particularly excited about a Spanish version of the PAR, which can help determine whether a child's reading difficulties should be attributed to a true learning deficit or a language barrier.

With the kind of data the PAR has, "you can begin to make some very good decisions about what type of training you need to provide teachers,'' Caldwell says.

Another aspect of the PAR is that it identifies and predicts children who will read above the norm. That's important, Caldwell and Wood say, because it tells educators which students they need to keep engaged.

For Wood, the PAR is "the smallest and the most preliminary part of my hope'' for children. After 20 years of tracking children and compiling test scores and data, what Wood would really like to see out of his work "is that we do a much better job of helping kids read a lot.''

Literacy and achievement are based on a combination of phonics with a strong vocabulary. That can be achieved, he says, when parents and teachers read to children and encourage them to read "the great treasures of our civilization and our history-anything from Longfellow to Einstein.''

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Last Updated: 04-14-2014
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