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NCLB Outrages

A Lively Debate

Wendy Swanson has a great idea for needed research.

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by Stephen Krashen

There has been a lively debate on Education Weekâs
website, comments following the article Massive
Funding Cuts to âReading Firstâ Generate Worries for
Struggling Schools
, (January 16).

The discussion began with a comment I made about
whether test scores from third graders at the David
Hill Elementary school in Oregon supported Reading
First, as was claimed in the article. I said they
didnât â too few children, and the claim of
improvement was based on one very unusual year of low

Reading First personnel from Oregon responded, in a
long discussion which included more test scores from
David Hill and some description of a larger study.
In my response, I faulted the additional data for
having the same flaws as the original and discussed
the larger study. It all boils down to this: Third
graders with three years of Reading First scored 3.2
points higher (about one half grade level) than those
who had one year of Reading First, which of course is
interpreted as a victory for Reading First.
My response is below, followed by a wonderful
suggestion by Wendy Swanson:

My response:
In my posts, I pointed out that the David Hill scores
were based on very small numbers of students, and that
one unusual year was used as the basis for
improvement. The Reading First Center, in their posts,
claimed that there is more data from David Hill, and
that a larger report confirms that Reading First has

More data from David Hill: Again, the data is from one
school, and suffers from a small sample size. Again,
only two years are used for comparison. And this time,
we canât check the data ourselves: They are not, to my
knowledge, on the Oregon Dept of Education website.

The larger report (Three Year Report on Oregon Reading
First: Impact and Implementation, June 2007) covers
many schools and presents more complete data.
According to the authors, the crucial data is a
comparison of the effect of three years of reading
first and only one year of reading first; it is, they
claim, âthe best evidence of the value added or Oregon
Reading First after increased years of implementationâ
(p. 70). Here is the crucial data: The group that had
three years of Reading First scored 210.9 on the
Oregon Statewide Reading Assessment, and the group
with one year scored 207.7 in grade three. Thatâs a
3.2 point difference. I estimate this to be about one
half a grade level.

What did it take to achieve this? â⦠at least 90
minutesâ of reading instruction (p. 18) and
âadditional instruction, beyond the 90 minutes to
those students who are not making additional progressâ
(p. 19). We are not told how much instruction the
comparison group got (nor are we given any details
about the treatments). According to the Center on
Education Policy, Reading First schools get about an
extra 100 minutes per week, or 20 minutes a day. That
totals up to an extra semester every two years. If
Reading First methods were exactly as efficient as
those in the comparison group, we would expect a
growth of an extra semester each two years. This
didnât happen.

There are much easier ways of making progress in
reading: If good reading material is available,
progress can be very rapid. Here is one example:
Sixth graders reading at the fourth grade level gained
over a year on the Nelson-Denny Test of Reading
Comprehension after five and a half weeks of summer
reading (including lots of Goosebumps) and a half year
on vocabulary (F. Shin and S. Krashen, 2007. Summer
Reading, Program and Evidence: Allyn and Bacon). Much
easier than two extra years of intensive systematic
phonics and other aspects of Reading First. It is also
much less expensive, and more pleasant for children
and teachers.

This view is also supported by studies showing that
classes that include more genuine reading for meaning
outperform âskills-basedâ classes, in the lower grades
(Krashen, 1999; Three Arguments Against Whole Language
and Why They are Wrong, Heinemann; Krashen, S. 2002.
The NRP comparison of whole language and phonics:
Ignoring the crucial variable in reading. Talking
Points, 13(3): 22-28) and in the higher grades
(Krashen, 2004, The Power of Reading, Heinemann).

Post by Wendy Swanson:

Here's the study I'd like to see: compare RF schools
with similar schools who would get the RF budget, but
without the strings and mandates. Teachers could spend
the $270,000 a year over four years on whatever they
thought would help kids read better--maybe some real
professional development, restoring the librarian
position, and buying a bunch of interesting books.
Betcha scores for non-RF would be at least as good.

— Stephen Krashen and Wendy Swanson
Stephen Krashen's Mailing List


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