iSTART stairstepper-using comprehension strategy training to game the test

Tracy Arner, Kathryn S. McCarthy, Danielle S. McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Literacy skills are critical for future success, yet over 60% of high school seniors lack proficient reading skills according to standardized tests. The focus on high stakes, standardized test performance may lead educators to “teach-to-the-test” rather than supporting transferable comprehension strategies that students need. StairStepper can fill this gap by blending necessary test prep and reading comprehension strategy practice in a fun, game-based environment. StairStepper is an adaptive literacy skill training game within Interactive Strategy Training for Active Reading and Thinking (iSTART) intelligent tutoring system. StairStepper is unique in that it models text passages and multiple-choice questions of high-stakes assessments, iteratively supporting skill acquisition through self-explanation prompts and scaffolded, adaptive feedback based on performance and self-explanations. This paper describes an experimental study employing a delayed-treatment control design to evaluate users’ perceptions of the StairStepper game and its influence on reading comprehension scores. Results indicate that participants enjoyed the visual aspects of the game environment, wanted to perform well, and considered the game feedback helpful. Reading comprehension scores of students in the treatment condition did not increase. However, the comprehension scores of the control group decreased. Collectively, these results indicate that the StairStepper game may fill the intended gap in instruction by providing enjoyable practice of essential reading comprehension skills and test preparation, potentially increasing students’ practice persistence while decreasing teacher workload.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Feedback
  • Game-based learning
  • Intelligent tutoring system
  • Reading comprehension
  • Strategy training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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