Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NAEP Reading Scores Not Improving Because of Uncritically Following Phonics Only/Reading First Instruction

Advocates for phonics instruction, a benchmark for Reading First and the No Child Left Behind Act, were once again shown that their strategy is ineffective at improving reading. Nationally NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) reading results stayed flat for 4th graders and rose only slightly and not significantly for 8th graders for the 10th year in a row. When I was in the Hoboken School District I tried to explain with some detail about the importance of phonics AND whole language instruction. Unfortunately, ill informed and opinionated elected officials to the Board of Education continually second guessed me and advocated for phonics only instruction despite my advice and professional experience to the contrary.

As Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch says:

“Our schools ...

... will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators

To be clear---no scapegoating is being done here and reading instruction is something that indeed needs improving not only in Hoboken and New Jersey but as this report indicates, across the entire nation. Nonetheless, our schools will not improve until politicians leave pedagogical and instructional decisions to educators and instructional experts.

As the Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools I had 7 years of experiences as a teacher and administrator, a Masters from Columbia University, a PhD from Vanderbilt University. I completed a post doctoral fellowship at the National Center for Assessment in Science and Mathematics Learning at the University of Wisconsin, was a tenured professor at a top 10 university in the country. I was licensed by the State of New Jersey and the Department of Education to be a Superintendent of Schools---and I was continually second guessed and questioned by certain elected members of the Board of Education. This is an unfortunate consequence of politicians trying to wrestle curriculum and instructional decision making from professionals. I think much can be learned.

Hoboken's curriculum is now in line with what research tells us is critical to reading instruction. Reading First has been de-emphasized and content specific reading is more developed with programs like LitLife, Read 180, and the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) all in place for the first time during 2009-2010 school year.

Please look below at what the latest research shows about Reading First and the latest results of the NAEP Reading scores nationally. -Dr. Petrosino


It is important to understand what the new results on NAEP really mean. As reported by Education Week correspondent Catherine Gewertz, reading scores stayed flat for 4th graders and rose only slightly for 8th graders on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, results that some find disappointing after many years of intensive attention to improving the reading skills of American students.

The report released today on NAEP, commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” shows that 8th graders scored 264, on average, on a 500-point scale on the 2009 exam. That is 1 point higher than the last time the reading test was given, in 2007. At the 4th grade level, 2009 reading scores averaged 221, the same as in 2007. Eighth graders’ reading scores have hovered between 262 and 264 since 2002, and have risen 4 points overall since 1992, the year that marks the beginning of this series of reading exams. Fourth graders’ scores, also, have risen 4 points since 1992, and since 2002 have stayed within 2 points of the average 2009 scores. “What NAEP shows us over the past two decades is that in reading there have been only slight gains and no sustained trend of improvement,” Steven Paine, West Virginia’s commissioner of education and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, said at a news conference to announce the results. He called the findings “disappointing” given the “considerable amount of effort” devoted to improving reading. Even the 1-point 8th grade gain, while statistically significant, “is not sufficient,” he said. The greater gains by the lowest-performing students could reflect the effects of state accountability systems since the late 1990s, even before the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said Tom Loveless, the author of a recent report examining NAEP score trends and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “It’s consistent with a story that says accountability systems are doing what they’re designed to do, boosting the lowest achievers,” he said. But he noted, as well, that the highest-achieving students did not appear to benefit from those same systems. Teachers spend too much time on literary texts in the early grades, neglecting to arm students with skills they need to tackle informational texts beginning in 4th grade, and in grades 4-8, they “don’t do anything systematic” in reading instruction, he said.

You can read the official report by NAEP by clicking HERE.

Take a look at this informative and entertaining video below to understand what EFFECTIVE reading instruction might look like. It's not a curriculum. Rather, it simply articulates that teaching reading is both complex and so much more than simply phonics.