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IES Targets Reading with $100 Million in Grants

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The federal Institute of Education Sciences yesterday announced it was awarding $100 million in grants to six teams of researchers across the country for a major new initiative aimed at promoting reading comprehension in students from preschool to high school.

The grants, spread over five years among 130 researchers in the fields of linguistics, reading, developmental psychology, speech, cognitive psychology, assessment, and language pathology, are the largest ever awarded by the Institute's National Center on Education Research for a single research program, said IES director John Q. Easton.

The money will go to help create a new Reading for Understanding Network, in which researchers will be required to work with teachers and other practitioners on the ground level, as well as with one another, to try to find proven, practical solutions to the thorny problem of improving reading comprehension.

While studies are converging on the best practices for teaching children to decode text, less is known about how to help students understand what they're decoding—particularly as they reach 3rd grade and are required to rely more on text for learning science, social studies, and other subjects.

"We thought this was an area that was really ripe," said Easton in an interview. "We thought, 'How can we really make a significant investment in moving it up a notch?' "

The six recipients are: the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J.; Florida State University; the Strategic Education Partnership Institute; the University of Illinois; Ohio State University; and the University of Texas at Austin.

"One of those centers has an overarching focus on assessment," Easton added. "One is focusing on a particular grade span, while others focus on different grade spans. We wanted to get the full grade span but we also wanted people learning from each other."

With its $20 million grant, for instance, the Washington-based SERP institute has recruited researchers from Harvard University and Stanford University to work in four school districts in Massachusetts and California to study comprehension issues among students in 4th through 8th grades.

According to the SERP Institute, that study will examine some cognitive processes that are often overlooked in reading research, such perspective taking, complex reasoning, and academic language skill. The plan is for researchers to work in tandem with local educators to develop structured discussion and debate techniques that teachers can use to develop those skills in their students.

Is this the first of a new breed of research projects at IES? "There may be other with similar features coming down the pike," said Easton.

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