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NCLB Outrages

Scientifically Research-Based, My Foot

DIBELS is touted as "research-based" and firmly grounded in the "Big Ideas" in literacy - according to the National Reading Panel (NRP). Blind faith in the NRP as the foundation for what constitutes "research-based" is about as smart as building a house of cards on a bed of sand.

C'mon folks - the NRP was commissioned by Congress - shouldn't that have been the first red flag?

Seriously though, the members of the NRP were expected to do too much with too little - the proof is in the pudding - the Report. Ahhh - but which report - the 32 page summary, or the 500 page report of the subgroups? Wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

For starters, the subcommittee of Alphabetics conducted a meta-analysis of 38 (yes folks, 38, does 38 seem "meta" to you?) The studies themselves were all experimental design (think medical model) research studies that looked at how phonics impacts children's reading. The six skills: reading nonsense words (hmmmmmm), decoding phonetically regular text, word identification, spelling, oral reading, and comprehension.(It is no accident that comprehension is last on the list).

NOT ONE STUDY LOOKED AT ALL SIX SKILLS - BUT (and here's the BIG BUT) the NRP decided to AVERAGE separate skills of each study and define the final average as growth.

74% of the studies looked at "bottom-up" skills in isolation WITHOUT CONSIDERING COMPREHENSION.

Houston, we have a problem.

The "phonics report" became part of the full NRP report - UNCORRECTED, UNDELIBERATED, and UNAPPROVED.

But wait, there's more. . .back to the reports . . .the most widely read - the 32 page summary states "The meta-analysis revealed that systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students K-6 . . ."
ah, but the big, fat, juicy 500 page report tells a different story:

"Phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, IF AT ALL in helping (students) apply these (decoding skills) to read text and spell words."

The misrepresentations of the findings are terrible, and terribly important because they inform how reading is taught under NCLB, so the next time you hear "research-based" . . .here's some ammunition.

(see Elaine Garan or Elaine Yatvin for a more eloquent and elegant discussion of the NRP. Yatvin is the sole author of the almost-not-even-published minority report - and the only NRP panel member whose expenses are NOT paid at NRP related speaking engagements. . . hmmmmm. . .)

Elaine Garan is the highly regarded author of Resisting Reading Mandates: How to Triumph with the Truth and In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit, and Education Collide.

— a teacher
research excerpt


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