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Final Report on the Impact of Reading First


The IES released the final Reading First Impact Study report today, and the bottom line is that the $6 billion spent on the federal initiative over the last six years helped boost decoding skills among 1st graders in the program, but had no effect on comprehension for 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders.

Ed Week reports on the study here, and already there are two opposing comments. One commenter asks a number of good questions about whether the program was implemented properly and what are the variations among the 250 schools in the study. The other suggests that focusing on low-level skills such as decoding in the hopes that they would lead later to comprehension was a faulty approach from the start.

What do you think?


The heading of the US Dept of Education press release on the Reading First study features the decoding results, but not the comprehension results, which are mentioned only briefly in the third paragraph and never again in the article. The article gives the impression that Reading First has been a huge success.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Releases Reading First Impact Study Final Report
Reading First has positive impact on first-graders' decoding skills.

I agree with the second commentator for 2 reasons: First, being able to decode words and being able to read for comprehension require two different skills. Being able to recognize letter sound patterns and read easy words that all sound alike only goes so far in helping a child interpret text in a meaningful way. Second, children need to understand how to use their decoding skills and learned word identification skills to become a strong reader. There should be a balance of both skills in teaching pre-alphabetic and partial alphabetic learners. (I'm referring to Regie Routman's 5 Stages of Word Learning here.)

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