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Research of James Royer, Ph.D. – Psychology Research Professor

The Reading Success Lab products are based on the research activities of Dr. James Royer Ph.D. , Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Royer is a highly respected researcher in the field of educational psychology.

Early Research – How College Student Learn from Written Text

Dr. Royer was always interested in some aspect of reading, but his focus changed quite a bit over his career.  Early in his career he was interested in how skilled readers (college students) learned from written text, and if there were ways to facilitate how much they learned.  For example, he studied the role of background knowledge in comprehending written material, and he examined whether adding analogies and illustrations to text would aid comprehension.

A Year at Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois

His interests took a turn when he spent a year as a Visiting Research Professor at the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois.

The Illinois research center was focused on understanding reading skills in elementary and secondary students and Royer began conducting his research with that population.

It was during this year while visiting that he developed the Sentence Verification Technique for which he is well known.

The Sentence Verification Technique (SVT)

This technique allows the construction of comprehension tests with these properties:

  • Any text or even oral language can be the source
  • Be simple enough that teachers could develop comprehension tests from materials being used in their classrooms.
  • Tests can be constructed to control for differences in prior knowledge

One of the problems with traditional comprehension tests is that performance is strongly correlated with intelligence. Intelligent readers typically have strong prior knowledge and good reasoning skills. This enables them to “figure out” answers to multiple choice comprehension questions, sometimes without even reading the passage the test questions are based on.

SVT tests eliminate the problem of being able to answer comprehension questions without reading the passage. When taking an SVT test, the student reads or listens to a passage and is then presented with a series of test sentences. With each test sentence the student responds “yes” or “no” as to whether the test sentence has the same meaning as a sentence in the passage.

The test sentences are of these four types:

  • An exact copy of a sentence in the passage
  • A paraphrase of a sentence in the passage
  • A sentence that contradicts a sentence in the passage
  • A sentence that is not part of the passage

There are now hundreds of research studies by Dr. Royer and other researchers that use the SVT procedure to measure listening and reading comprehension.

Ten Years of Research Using SVT

While conducting SVT studies Royer became increasingly interested in why some readers had difficulty comprehending what they were reading. He discovered early on that there were multiple reasons why students had difficulty with text comprehension. A simple example illustrates what he found. 

When conducting research on text comprehension in a sixth-grade classroom he administered an SVT test to every student in the class. Going through the tests later he found two students that got the same score on the test, both performing poorly. One student answered all the questions but got a lot of them wrong. The second student got every question he answered correct but failed to answer many of the questions because he ran out of time to complete the test.

Just Looking at the comprehension scores would provide no clue to the differences between the two poor readers, but the patterns of their performance would suggest very different reasons for their poor performance.

Reading as a Hierarchy of Skills that Must be Performed Automatically

Findings such as those in the example just given led Royer to an interest in developing reading diagnostic procedures. He was convinced that skilled reading was supported by a series of cognitive activities that were performed fast and automatically, almost without the conscious awareness of the reader.

He was also convinced that problems with these automatic activities were the source of many reading difficulties. Royer was also convinced that reading activities occurred in a series of stages:

  1. Letter recognition
  2. Activation of the sound of letters and syllables
  3. Recognition of words
  4. Activation of the meaning of words
  5. Comprehension of sentences
  6. Comprehension of paragraphs and longer text segments

Royer developed computer administered activities that measured both the speed and accuracy of performing each of these reading stages. He spent severally years successfully validating these procedures.

The LATAS Lab – Helping Struggling Readers

Dr. Royer and his students created a research laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, called the Laboratory for the Assessment and Training of Academic Skills (LATAS). LATAS worked with readers referred by independent diagnosticians, and referrals from school systems and parents.

LATAS worked with individuals ranging in age from six to adult, and included clients who had been formally diagnosed as having dyslexia, dyscalculia, attentional disorders such as ADHD, spectrum disorders (e.g., autism), and individuals with some form of intellectual disability (e.g., Downs Syndrome).

Dr. Royer teamed up with software developer Jeremy Wise, Ph.D. and together they developed a system for measuring speed and accuracy for the reading tests. This system was called Computer-Based Academic Assessment System or CAAS. This is the system that evolved to become the online diagnostic and intervention system offered by Reading Success Lab.

Using this computer-based system Dr. Royer and his students developed techniques for separating out different reading problems based on this testing. They also developed successful intervention strategies for the students.

What was Learned from the LATAS Lab

One of the most important research findings of LATAS was that individuals with different diagnoses had different profiles of performance on the CAAS assessments. For example, students with dyslexia had different profiles than students with ADHD, and poor readers not diagnosed with dyslexia had different profiles than students diagnosed with dyslexia.

Another important finding in the LATAS research was that students who had made no progress after many years of phonics based reading interventions did make significant progress in the acquisition of reading skill when using the interventions developed in the LATAS lab. Moreover, the LATAS interventions worked with all students having reading difficulties.

LATAS Research and Reading Success Lab

Royer’s research on reading difficulties and the tools he developed to study and eliminated those difficulties provide the foundation of the Reading Success Lab software.

Royer’s publications that are directly relevant to the Reading Success Lab mission are listed in Research Publications

For a complete list of Royer’s publications see his curriculum Vitae

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