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This study reports on a trial use, in independent extensive reading over a three–month period, of an online reading management system, with low proficiency non–native speakers of English (EFL/TESOL) at a Taiwanese university, in order to evaluate its effectiveness in increasing reading proficiency. The system used the controversial Lexile measure, of both text difficulty and reader ability level, to match readers to texts. Data was gathered with the software package’s objective measures of reading proficiency, text comprehension and number and type of texts read, to which the researchers added a reader attitude questionnaire. While student attitudes towards the visual aspects of the system and its wide range of reading topics were favorable, the system was found to lack support for non–native readers who attempt to read more challenging texts and would benefit if it improved how it explains and uses lexile scores. Over the trial period, comprehension on tests that immediately followed reading fell as text difficulty increased over time. Scores on the reading proficiency test provided by the system decreased slightly but significantly, throwing doubt on its validity over short periods of time. In addition to limitations of the system itself, reading improvement was found to be related to the level of texts which students chose to read, but not to how many or their length. The implication is that increased efforts must be made to convince students not to read at a level way below their personal lexile level when improving proficiency is the goal.
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