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Resource Corner


Diagnostic Assessment of Reading Comprehension (DARC)

Funder: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, via subcontract from the University of Houston

July 2005 – June 2009

Working under a contract awarded to the University of Houston from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, CAL, along with collaborating institutions, University of Houston and Harvard University is developing and validating an assessment battery on reading comprehension for both English Language Learner (ELL) and English Only (EO) students.

Currently available tools for the assessment of reading comprehension have limited utility for profiling students’ strengths and weaknesses in the components of reading comprehension, are unduly affected by students’ ability to decode the words in texts, are generally non-informative for teachers in guiding instruction, and are particularly limited in assisting teachers of language minority students. This research is an effort to address these problems

Project Overview

CAL, along with its partners, is developing a diagnostic assessment of reading comprehension (DARC) for children in grades 3 through 5 that focuses on the critical components of comprehension. They include: 1) decoding and word reading; 2) reading fluency; 3) knowledge of vocabulary (i.e., word meanings) and other linguistic factors (e.g., knowledge of grammar, syntax, and morphology and other linguistic elements such as anaphora and cohesion markers), and 4) central comprehension processes.

Overall, the four year research project involves the following: (1) the development of the three components that will comprise the reading comprehension battery, (2) reliability and validity studies for the three components (3) validation of the entire assessment battery, (4) establishment of norms in grades 3-5, and (5) equating multiple forms of the assessment battery.

Awareness of Reading Comprehension (ARC) Test

Researchers from the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) have piloted one component of this reading comprehension assessment battery: the Awareness of Reading Comprehension (ARC) Test. The test has been developed to assess children’s central comprehension processes, i.e., text memory, text inferencing, background knowledge, and the ability to integrate background knowledge with text information. The purpose of the pilot study conducted in the spring of 2006 was to investigate the appropriateness of this component of the overall assessment for 3rd through 5th graders who are English-language learners and English-only students. Pilot data will be analyzed using qualitative research methods to inform researchers on what revisions have to be made on the assessment component’s content, format, wording, instructions, and administration. Also, researchers will analyze the data to determine if the central comprehension components are developmentally sensitive (i.e., that scores improve by grade).

Development of the DARC

In our previous research, we developed a prototype of the ARC. In the prototype, we minimized the impact of differences across children in decoding skills, vocabulary, and linguistic sophistication by using vocabulary at a lower grade, employing very simple syntactic structures, and embedding relational propositions in narrative to provide children more context.. Our research on the convergent/discriminant validity of the prototype showed that some ELL and EO children who did poorly on standardized reading comprehension tests such as the Stanford 9 Reading Test and the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery-Revised (WLPB-R) Passage Comprehension performed well on the prototype. These findings seem to indicate that: a) sophisticated cognitive processes can be measured independently of English proficiency, b) standardized tests mask some children’s abilities in important cognitive components of reading comprehension, and c) our test successfully tapped into children’s “hidden” cognitive abilities.


August, D., Francis, D., Hsu, H-Y. A., & Snow, C. (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.

Visit the Acquiring Literacy in English Web site to learn more about the DARC.

Return to CAL's current project list.