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[Susan notes: Thank you to Stephen Krashen for continuing to remind people what the research actually shows, which is not the press release information the media repeat and repeat and repeat.]

Published in Education Week

To the editor

According to the recent Reading First final impact study, children

participating in the program did better than their peers in comparison

schools on a test of decoding in grade 1, but did no better on

reading-comprehension tests in grades 1, 2, and 3, despite

considerable extra instructional time ("Federal Path for Reading

Questioned," Dec. 3, 2008).

This is not the first study to show that children following an

intensive decoding-based curriculum do well on tests of decoding but

not on measures of reading comprehension when compared with regular

students. Similar results were shown in the report of the National

Reading Panel, the foundation for Reading First. As Elaine Garan, a

professor of literacy and early education at California State

University-Fresno, has pointed out, the panel found that systematic

phonics was superior only on tests of decoding, and that its impact

was small or insignificant on reading-comprehension tests after grade


The same pattern appears in research on direct instruction, which

assumes that students must know how to sound out words before they can

read with understanding. Children taught using direct instruction did

much better on the Wide Range Achievement Test (decoding) than on the

Metropolitan Achievement Test (reading comprehension and vocabulary),

even when followed to grade 9.

Such results suggest that a high level of proficiency in decoding is

not necessary in order to learn to read. This is also supported by

studies showing that children in classes emphasizing interesting,

comprehensible reading, and with less decoding instruction, perform as

well as or better than children in decoding-emphasis classes on

decoding tests, and typically score higher on tests of reading

comprehension. There are also cases of children who have learned to

read on their own with little or no decoding instruction.

This is consistent with the views of reading researchers Frank Smith

and Kenneth Goodman, who hypothesize that we learn to read by

understanding what is written. Our ability to decode complex words is

the result of reading, not the cause.

Stephen Krashen

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