The last three decades of reading comprehension research has led to a more complete understanding of reading comprehension processes. This evolution of reading theory, in conjunction with recent developments in discourse processes and computational linguistics has led us to a point where traditional readability formulas (e.g. Flesch-Kincaid scores) can be dramatically improved.

Our primary challenge in the proposed grant is to develop an automated cohesion metric tool (Coh-Metrix) that computes properties of text cohesion and that computes a coherence score that integrates text cohesiveness with the reader’s world knowledge and aptitude. We will also develop an automated tool that identifies specific cohesion gaps in text (Coh-GIT).

Our second goal is to further our understanding of the complex interactions among the text, reader, tasks, and levels of representation. This will allow us to better calibrate Coh-Metrix and Coh-GIT in addition to advancing theories of reading comprehension. We plan on conducting several experiments to investigate effects of text cohesion for young readers (grades 3-5) and young-adult readers, and how those effects depend on text genre, prior knowledge and word-based reading skills

Our third goal is to fine-tune and validate our coherence measurements by (a) using existing data corpora and data collected during this project to calibrate and test our metrics; (b) examining and comparing cohesion metrics and readability scores across a large set of K-14 basal readers and instructional textbooks, (c) empirically verifying the validity of Coh-GIT by identifying cohesion gaps in texts and comparing it to eye-tracking patterns.

The potential applied contributions of the Coh-Metrix and Coh-GIT tools are innumerable. These tools will allow readers, writers, editors, and educators to more accurately estimate the appropriateness of a text for their audience, and pinpoint specific problems with text. Thus, this project will be of benefit to both practitioners and policy makers, helping to improve students’ ability to comprehend and learn from text.