Acquiring Literacy in English:
Crosslinguistic, Intralinguistic, and Developmental Factors

Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension (DARC)

Authors and Date

Diane August, Center for Applied Linguistics; David Francis, University of Houston; and Margarita Calderón, Johns Hopkins University. 2002.


The parallel English and Spanish versions of the Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension (DARC) are designed to measure individual differences in reading comprehension. Each test assesses four components of comprehension:

  • Text memory: ability to access prior knowledge from long-term memory

  • Text inferencing: ability to make inferences based on information provided in the text

  • Knowledge access: ability to recall new text information from memory

  • Knowledge integration: ability to integrate accessed prior knowledge with new text information

The tests are designed to measure central comprehension processes while minimizing the need for high levels of English oral proficiency or decoding ability. The tests were developed for the research study Transfer of Reading Skills in Bilingual Children, subproject 2 of Acquiring Literacy in English: Crosslinguistic, Intralinguistic, and Developmental Factors.

Age or Grade of Examinees

The DARC tests are based on a task that was originally developed by Hannon & Daneman (2001) for university students. The DARC tests were developed for use with students in grades 2 through 5. Adaptation of the original task to create a test suitable for elementary school children involved using second-grade level vocabulary; embedding target sentences in a narrative (story) to provide context; and presenting only one relational feature in each of the three sections of the story to make the test easier for children to comprehend.


The DARC has listening and reading sections. A child takes just the listening or just the reading section depending on his or her reading ability. To determine the child's reading ability, the assessor first asks the child to read a practice story aloud. The assessor keeps track of the number of words the child reads incorrectly or skips. If the child makes an error on 8 or more of the real words in the story, the child takes the listening section of the test. Otherwise, the child takes the reading section.

Next, the child is asked to listen to or read each section in one of two stories (Nan and Her Pets, Tom and Ren) one section at a time. The child then answers "Yes" or "No" to questions about each section. The assessor also asks the child to explain why he/she chose his/her answers after each question. After completing each section, the assessor reads or asks the child to read the previous section(s) again, along with the next section. At the end of the listening or reading, the assessor gives the paper copy of the story to the child and asks him/her to indicate the words that are not real and also any words he/she does not know the meaning of.

Example story (English):

Nan has four pets. One pet is a cat. Nan's cat is fast. Nan has a pet culp. Nan's pet culp is like her cat. But Nan's pet culp is faster than her cat.

Nan has a pet turtle. Nan's turtle is slow. Nan also has a pet tarf. Nan's pet tarf is like her turtle. But Nan's pet tarf is slower than her turtle.

One day, Nan got a pet snerf. Now Nan has five pets. Nan's snerf is like her tarf. But Nan's snerp is slower than her tarf. All of Nan's pets like to play. The pets like to play in her backyard.

Example questions (English):

Component of reading comprehension


Text Memory

Nan's pet culp is faster than her pet cat.

Text Inferencing

The turtle is slower than the snerp.

Knowledge Access

A turtle is slower than a cat.

Knowledge Integration

Nan's tarf is slower than her snerp.


Example story (Spanish):

Tomás y René son amigos. A ellos les gusta manejar. A René le gusta manejar su petibo. Un petibo es como una patineta, pero es más pequeño.

A Tomás también le gusta manejar. A Tomás le gusta manejar su bópela. Una bópela es como una bicicleta pero es más grande.

María es la hermana de Tomás. María maneja un terpo. Un terpo es como una bópela pero es más grande. A René, Tomás, y María les gusta salir a manejar. En el verano, a ellos les gusta salir a manejar todo el día.

Example questions (Spanish):

Component of reading comprehension


Text Memory

Tomás y René son hermanos.

Text Inferencing

A René le gusta andar en patineta.

Knowledge Access

Las bicicletas tienen dos pedales.

Knowledge Integration

Es necesario pararse sobre un petibo.



The test is individually administered by a trained assessor. The English DARC is administered by a native English speaker, and the Spanish DARC by a native Spanish speaker. The entire test is tape recorded to capture student's explanations for their answers. The assessment generally takes 45 minutes to administer.

Scoring and Interpretation

The test is scored dichotomously, "1" for each correct response and "0" for each incorrect response. In addition, children's responses and reasons for their responses are tape recorded; a method for scoring these think-aloud protocols is pending. Children's reasons for their responses provide a 'window' into their thinking as they attempt to answer the questions.

Reliability and Validity

Pilot studies were conducted to assess the DARC's feasibility, reliability, comparability across Spanish and English, developmental sensitivity, and relation to standardized measures. The first study, carried out with 16 second-through sixth-grade English language learners, showed that the DARC items were at the appropriate reading level. The second study, with 28 native Spanish-speaking fourth graders who had scored poorly on the Reading Passages subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson Language Proficiency Battery-Revised (WLPB-R), demonstrated that yes-no answers were valid indicators of respondents' thinking and that the Spanish and English versions of the DARC were comparable. The third study, carried out with 521 Spanish-speaking students in kindergarten through grade 3, confirmed that the four comprehension components assessed by the DARC could be measured independently. The data from the 192 third graders in the study showed that the DARC and the WLPB-R Passage Comprehension subtest were related (r=.61) but distinct, and influenced by different factors. In particular, DARC scores were less strongly related to word reading than Woodcock-Johnson comprehension scores.

Additional research on the DARC is in progress through a grant from the Institute for Education Sciences, US Department of Education.


The DARC is based on a task that was originally developed by Hannon & Daneman.

Hannon, B. & Daneman, M. (2001). A new tool for measuring and understanding individual differences in the component process of reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93 (1),103-28.


August, D., Francis, D. J., Hsu, H.-Y. A., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Assessing reading comprehension in bilinguals. In R. Gersten (Ed.), Instructional research on English learners. Special issue of Elementary School Journal, 107(2), 221-238.

Francis, D., Snow, C., August, D., Carlson, C., Miller, J., & Iglesias, A.  (2006). Measures of reading comprehension: A latent variable analysis of the Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading 10 (3), 301-322.


The English version of the DARC is available from the Center for Applied Linguistics. To request a copy, complete and submit the Application Form for Use of ALE Researcher-developed Assessment Instruments, available in Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF format.


Researchers using the Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension (DARC) should cite it as follows:

Center for Applied Linguistics and the University of Houston. (2002). Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension (DARC). Washington, DC: Center for  Applied Linguistics.

Return to the list of researcher-developed assessments.