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The Process Assessment of the Learner – Test Battery for Reading and Writing (PAL-RW)

A quick review - By Ron Dumont and John Willis

  The Process Assessment of the Learner – Test Battery for Reading and Writing (PAL-RW; Berninger, 2001) (The Psychological Corporation), uses a variety of tasks to assess a children’s development of reading and writing processes. The PAL-RW was normed in 1999-2000 on 868 individuals in grades K-6 from around the U.S.   According to the author, the PAL-RW can be used to:

Screen by identifying students at risk for reading/writing problems;
Monitor by tracking progress for students in early intervention and prevention programs; and
Diagnose by evaluating the nature of reading/writing–related processing problems.

Complete Kit in a Box
Includes Examiner's Manual, Stimulus Booklets, 25 Record Forms, 25 Response Forms, Stylus-Wood, Word Card, Audiotape, and Shield. $250.00

The PAL-RW appears to be a good attempt at measuring the emerging skills needed for the complicated tasks of reading and writing.  As a diagnostic tool for early grade school children, it appears to be quite useful.  Its use with older children may be hampered by the limited number of items on certain subtests.  The scores obtained by older children may accurately reflect the problems they may have in the specific area, but the lack of sufficient numbers of items limits any diagnostic or interpretive statements that can be made.  The PAL-RW would be more useful with clarification of the scoring rules, as noted below.

The use of the PAL-RW to “monitor student’s progress during and after intervention” (a stated use of the test) seems problematic given the poor test-retest statistics provided in the manual.

Test description:

The PAL-RW includes the following subtests:

  • Alphabet Writing (speed of writing lower-case letters of the alphabet from memory in 15 seconds)

·  Receptive Coding

Task A [shown a word (AT) for 1 second. Then shown IT. Are the words the same?]
Task B [shown a word (BAT) for 1 second. Then shown C. Is the letter in the word?]
Task C [shown a word (ATE) for 1 second. Then shown ET. Are the 2 letters in the word in the
          correct order?]
Task D [shown a word (MOTHER) for 1 second. Then shown L. Is the letter in the word?]
Task E [shown a word (SOCIETY) for 1 second. Then shown EI. Are the 2 letters in the word in
          the correct order?]

  • Expressive Coding

    Task A [shown a word (QAST) for 1 second. Then write the word.]
    Task B [shown a word (LADFUST) for 1 second. Then write the third letter.]
    Task C [shown a word (POGDUS) for 1 second. Then write the last 3 letters.]
  • Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN)

    Rapid Letter Naming (name these letters as fast as you can)
              Item 1: m t g k b h r a n          Item 2:  fi  ps  er  ou
    Rapid Word Naming (name these words as fast as you can)
              dog   eat  of  sit  over
    Rapid Digit Naming (name these numbers as fast as you can)
              Item 1: 3 7 8 1 9 6 2)           Item 2: 67  89  45  73
    Rapid Word and Digit Naming (name these Words and Digits as fast as you can)
              tea  eat  56  of  89  over
  • Note-Taking Task - A  (Listen to a story and take notes as it is read)
  • Rhyming
    Task A (Listen to 3 words and tell which one does not have the same sound)
              ball     call     help
    Task B (The word is PIG.  Tell me all the real words you can that rhyme with PIG.)
  • Syllables (Hear a word (both real and made-up), say the word, now say it with a sound left out)
              PUTTING     Say PUTTING     Now say it without the PUT
  • Phonemes (Hear a word (both real and made up), say the word, now say it with a sound left out – what sound was left out)
              SIT     Say SIT     Now say IT     What sound is missing?
  • Rimes (Say a word (real or made up)with a sound left out)
              Say BIKE without /b/
  • Word Choice (Shown 3 words, indicate the one which is spelled correctly)
              PIG     PAG     PIZE
  • Pseudoword Decoding (Read some words that are not real words)
              DRIY     HAFFE       STROC
  • Story Retell (After being read a short story, answer questions, then retell story in own words)
  • Finger Sense

    Repetition (1 & 2) [Touch thumb to index finger 20 times (Right and left hands) scored for
               completion time]

    Succession (1 & 2) [Touch thumb to each finger 5 complete times (Right and left hands)
              scored for completion time]
    Localization (After having one finger touched out of sight, tell which finger was touched)
    Recognition (Each finger is assigned a number. After having one finger touched out of sight, tell
              what number of the finger was touched)
    Fingertip Writing (After having a letter “written” onto a fingertip, tell which letter was written)
  • Sentence Sense (Read 3 sentences and tell which one makes sense)
              I ATE THE CAKE
              I EIGHT THE CAKE
              I ATE THE CAPE
  • Copying (Here is a sentence (paragraph). Copy it as fast as you can)

    Task B  (A paragraph)
  • Note-Taking Task B  (Take the notes created earlier [Note-Taking Task A] and write a paragraph based on the notes)

General Comments:

All scores are based upon the grade of the child tested, not the chronological age.  No explanation is given for why this is so.  Are these “neurodevelopmental processes” age- or grade-dependent?

Normative sampling seems adequate [>100 at each grade (range 105 – grade 6 to 142 – grade 1)].  Appropriate percentage comparisons to the U.S. population are evident for sex; race/ethnicity; parental education; and geographic region.

All scores are reported as DECILE scores.  These describe which tenth of the distribution the child’s performance lies in.  A child’s Decile score of 20 means that 20% of the general population was at or below the child’s performance.  The PAL divides the Decile scores into descriptive categories (10-20 - Deficient, 30-40 - At Risk, 50 - Emerging Adequate, 60-80 – Adequate, and 90-100 – Proficient).

Test-retest comparisons based on 86 children in Grades 1, 3, and 5 tested a second time  14 to 49 days later, show reliabilities that ranged from .61 to .92.  Five measures had reliabilities below .70.  Seven of the 14 tests had lower scores on retest!

Criterion-related validity studies with individually administered tests varied greatly in sample size (WIAT-II, n = 120, PPVT-III, n = 19-43, VMI, n = 7-12, and CELF-III, n = 14).   Despite the relatively small sample sizes in some of the validity studies, the PAL-RW generally did show expected correlations with other reading, decoding, and language tests.

Comparison between clinical and nonclinical samples suffer from limitations in sample size.  For example, of 18 measures assessed and compared, the sampling range from an n of 3 to an n of 23.  Result found significant differences (p < .05) for 7 of the 18 subtests

Examiners may wish to add some tabs to the easels since they contain multiple subtests and differing starting points.

The pages on the easel are sturdy, but after repeated use, they begin to tear away from the ring binder.  This is especially true on the pages for which the examiner is required to flip after only 1 second of exposure.  Examiners may wish to apply ring reinforcers or to apply heavy tape and repunch the holes.

Subtest comments:

Alphabet Writing –

·         This test is scored for the number of correct, unique letters the child has reproduced in 15 seconds. 

·         For those children who are very young or very slow, the record form provides space to record the number of letters completed in 5 minutes.  No norms are provided for this condition.

·         Norms for Grades K (both Fall and Spring) are based upon WIAT-II standardization sampling

·         Scoring examples are given in the manual although no explanations of how to determine “Too closed” or “Too open” are given.

·         You do not count as correct “letters that are out of order.”  This seems a bit confusing.  If a child writes “a  b  d  c  e  f  h  g”, how does one score it?  Since the 3rd letter is incorrect, are all others out of order resulting in a score of 2?  The manual does not elaborate.

Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN)

·         The score for these tasks is based upon the amount of time it takes to name the letters or numbers presented.  However, although the examiner keeps track of errors, the Decile score is simply based on the speed, not the accuracy of completion.  Norms for errors suggest that any error at any age places the child in the Deficient or At-Risk category.

Note-Taking Task - A

·         No tape is provided to the examiner leaving a wide variation of how the story can be read.  The manual notes that the examiner should read in a “normal, conversational tone” similar to a class lecture.  There is no emphasis on any words or parts of the passage.

·         Scoring is done by comparing the notes taken with criteria relating to Main Ideas and Supporting Ideas.  Two of the main ideas have credit for the same supporting detail.  It is unclear if the child must say the supporting idea twice to get the credit or if by mentioning it once, he or she gets the credit twice.

·         Scoring also includes scores for “Attributes” rated as Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, and Always Present.  These attributes, and their scoring, are seemingly ill-defined, with no examples given to explain what is meant by or how to judge some of the attributes (e.g.,  “Notes are legible”).  In the attribute section, up to 4 points are given for “Notes are accurate” (undefined), despite the fact that the Main Ideas and Supporting Ideas scoring section presumably was measuring accuracy.


·         Grades 1-3 start with item Sample 3, and number 11. If, after taking 10 items, the child has failed any two items, examiners go back and administer items 1-10.  However, children in grades 4-6 start at Sample 4, and are administered only 6 items.  Regardless of the number of errors, examiners do not administer earlier items?  That seems like a small number of items to create a stable score.

Phonemes and Rimes

·         Each subtest provides only 6 items for children in grades 4-6

Finger sense

·         Succession (1 & 2) [Touch thumb to each finger 5 complete times (Right and left hands)]. Examiners are to record the “Finger order of Incorrect Sequences.”  This seems to be a fairly difficult task and one, like many of the supplemental recordings made by the examiner, which has no score nor any interpretive suggestions.

Copying [Here is a sentence (paragraph). Copy it as fast as you can.]

·         Despite the fact that the paragraph for Task B contains both capital letters and punctuation marks, only the number of correctly copied letters is counted. 

·         The directions for scoring include “Do not count letters that are written in capitals (uppercase).  Yet 14 words in the paragraph are capitalized!?

·         No directions for how to score run-on words is given.  Must the child copy the sentence and paragraph with correct spacing between the words?