Schmitt, A. J., McCallum, E., Hawkins, R. O., Stephenson, E., & Vicencio, K. (2019). The effects of two assistive technologies on reading comprehension accuracy and rate . Assistive Technology , 31 (4), 220–230.

Journal Article

Schmitt, A. J., McCallum, E., Hawkins, R. O., Stephenson, E., & Vicencio, K. (2019). The effects of two assistive technologies on reading comprehension accuracy and rate. Assistive Technology, 31(4), 220–230.


Learning disabilities; Middle school; Oral delivery; Reading; Text-to-speech device/software; U.S. context




Two oral delivery of reading passages listening-while-reading (LWR) conditions were compared: continuous text-to-speech presentation using Kurzweil 3000 software, and discontinuous TTS reading pen device. These two oral delivery conditions were also compared with silent reading of passages and test items by test-takers. The Kurzweil 3000 condition presented all words of each text passage in a computer-synthesized voice, and the reading pen decoded only the words selected by test-takers into a computer-synthesized voice (the vocabulary function was locked). The accommodations were also provided for the comprehension test items. All testing conditions included individual test administration in a quiet room; the reading pen was connected with headphones and variable volume control, set by test-takers. Oral delivery and silent reading sessions permitted only one reading pass; repeating passages or test items within each session was not allowed.


Four grade 8 students with reading-specific learning disabilities from a suburban middle school in a Mid-Atlantic state (U.S.) participated. These students received reading intervention instruction through their special education program at their school.

Dependent Variable

Reading tasks consisted of reading text passages, then completing 10 selected-response (multiple-choice) comprehension questions on the content of each text passage. Five of the comprehension items were factual, and five were inferential. Participants each completed a practice session and 9 data-gathering sessions for each of the three testing conditions. Measures included accuracy rate and comprehension rate. Correctness of item responses comprised the accuracy rate. Comprehension rate incorporated time for reading passages: number of correct item responses, divided by number of seconds spent reading text passages, multiplied by 60. In other words, comprehension rate was number of correct item responses for each minute of passage reading time. Three Aimsweb curriculum-based measure (CBM) probes (Aimsweb, 2008), measuring oral reading fluency rate, were also administered to each participant in advance of the testing sessions.


Continuous text-to-speech (TTS) oral delivery, of all words in passages and items, most benefited three participants in reading comprehension accuracy. The reading comprehension accuracy scores, averaged across all test sessions, were highest in the software condition for three of the four participants. Effect sizes were small to moderate for two participants and large for one participant, favoring the text-to-speech software over the reading pen device that delivered student-selected words. The other participant had the highest average comprehension accuracy scores in the unaccommodated silent reading condition, and scored higher with the reading pen than with the software; effect sizes showed negligible differences among the three testing conditions. Test session accuracy scores were also reported. Comprehension rates, which included passage reading times, were highest in the continuous TTS condition, with large effect sizes, and second-highest in the silent reading condition, for three participants. The other participant had the highest comprehension rate in the silent reading condition, and second-highest in the continuous TTS condition. The reading pen yielded the lowest comprehension rates, with moderate to high effect sizes, for all participants; this finding suggested that all participants were least fluent when using the TTS reading pen accommodation for only selected words or segments—that is, in a discontinuous manner—and this decrease in reading efficiency may disrupt comprehension.