February 18, 2008

The Knowledge Connection

Don Hirsch weighs in on why NCLB isn't working:

Those in Congress in charge of crafting revisions should understand that the law's disappointing results owe less to defects in the law than to the methods and ideas schools use in their attempts to fulfill the "adequate yearly progress" mandate for all groups of students; this causes schools, as many complain, to teach to reading tests rather than educate children. But intensive test preparation by schools has resulted in lower reading test scores in later grades. "Teaching to the test" does not effectively teach to the test after all.


I agree with Hirsch that "the methods and ideas schools use in their attempts to fulfill the 'adequate yearly progress' mandate for all groups of students" are the problem. In some cases, such as at the middle and high school level, the reason schools haven't responded appropriately is because 1. too many students continue to reach them ill-prepared for grade-level work and 2. there's not a whole lot of data at these levels out there on effective pedagogical methods for lower performers. There was no golden era of education in which lower performers successfully learned middle and high school level content. Before WWII, these students dropped out, after WWII, students stayed in school longer, but there's no evidence that they learned more.

However, this lack of pedagogical knowledge does not pertain to the elementary school level. There are successful models out there to emulate. If elementary schools are still floundering with AYP at this point, they have no one to blame but themselves. NAEP results show small 5th grade gains, so far, but they are far smaller than they could or should be. To put it simply, many elementary schools still refuse to do what needs to be done to imrpove, despite the punitive measures imposed by NCLB.

Perhaps there are better ways to motivate schools than NCLB, but I haven't seen any better way with a proven track record. What I normally see is nebulous ideas and complaints. I'm a firm believer in market based solutions, but for such solutions to work, you'd pretty much need to dismantle the entire public school system, the toxic education colleges, and all the special interest groups that have arisen that perpetuate the status quo. This would not only be highly disruptive, but it also requires political capital and will which presently don't exist. Remember, the public schools function well enough in the affluent suburbs where the chattering class resides.

45 comments:

Cal said...

I didn't agree with his point, which was that the way to improve reading comprehension is to give kids a wider breadth of reading material. What we really need to do is spend more time drilling vocabulary, which will help the kids who don't like to read.

More generally, though, I find that teaching kids how to look for main idea and think of author's purpose works very well as a way of understanding the material. Kids tend to get bogged down in the details.

allen (from Michigan) said...

> I'm a firm believer in market based solutions, but for such solutions to work, you'd pretty much need to dismantle the entire public school system

If the problem's the existance of a monopoly then the solution's the fracturing of the monopoly. Unfortunately, that solution runs right up against the political realities of apathy, inertia, entrenched interests and fear of the unknown.

Not that the dismantling of the entire public education system's an impossibility. It just has to be approached properly: extended over time and as public courage will bear.

Charters are, oddly enough, practically the perfect instrument for initiating the end of the public education monopoly.

Maybe there's some sort of political Darwinism operating but the less-threatening nature of charters - they are after public schools - to the public education lobby, voting public and parents allows for a relatively painless step away from the previously inviolable concept of the school district. Once that idea's being examined and talked about everything else becomes a more acceptable topic for polite conversation.

The single greatest shortcoming of NCLB is that it measures schools when schools are extensions of school districts and thus not in a position to take actions and set policies that'll improve their performance. Inept or uniformed district administration will almost always trump ept and informed school administration. NCLB hands out umbrellas to take care of the problem of a leaky roof.

Kathy said...

DeRosa states:

"However, this lack of pedagogical knowledge does not pertain to the elementary school level. There are successful models out there to emulate. If elementary schools are still floundering with AYP at this point, they have no one to blame but themselves."

Could you please list some of these successful models? I myself don't see DI models being accepted by the education community, is there anything else out there working? I use materials from the early 70's and they would not be accepted either.

The UK schools are switching to synthetic phonics in their kindergarten year, but most are using materials from a selection of programs such as Jolly Phonics.

Phila SD has a brand new superintendent and based on her resume in today's Phila papers, she is coming from the same old thing.

I would love some in-depth discussion on the details of working models in elementary schools.

KDeRosa said...

Kathy, there are at least three curricula that have some positive research base: DI, SfA, and Open Court. There might be some new ones that emerged after Reading First.

I don't see any of these being adopted any time soon, but they are out there adn nothing is preventing their adoption, except perhaps ideology.

Anonymous said...

A few sincere questions for Kederosa:

1) Why don't the opencourt and SFA folks every do head to head comparison studies with Direct Instruction? Maybe because they know they would lose???

Why did they even bother to create opencourt and SFA when DI already existed???

Wouldn't that effort have been better spent on middle school reading curriculum that builds on the elementary level DI reading mastery curriculum?

People don't like cloned beef but they put up with cloned curriculum.

2) Those three programs above all have a strong research base but they are essentially showing large effect sizes because they are systemic phonics programs. They don't get students to the high school level in reading. Is there a program out there with a research basis that actually gets students to the 8th grade reading level?

(Necessary to handle newspapers and many high school textbooks.)

3) What does everyone think of the research base on Read 180?

4) And Hey Kderosa:

When will there be a a D-EdR post about the spin of the $7 million federal study of 9th grade interventions in the current issue of Ed Week:

"Extra Literacy Class Helps Struggling Readers—Some"

That headline is crap. Read the first report from the $7 million federal study. It is well done. Talk about spinning the data in Ed Week. Neither of the two interventions studied had a statistically significant impact in the 16 schools with the best fidelity of implementation.

The real question: Why is it a national panel of reading experts can't find a program to study that will have a statistically significant impact on 9th grade reading achievement???

As you have posted before, that is a LOW bar.

The nation's top reading experts pick two programs and NEITHER ONE has a statistically significant impact?

What the hell???

palisadesk said...

There is a middle school DI model. Developed initially at Goethe Middle School in Sacramento by Bonnie Grossen and others, it combines Corrective Reading (a multi-level DI program for upper elementary-high school students with both decoding and comprehension strands) with several DI writing programs that develop both correct conventions, critical reasoning skills and writing in several genres.

I'm not sure how much controlled research is out there because I believe this system (now called the REACH program -- I think) is relatively new (2004? 2005?).

From personal experience I know that these programs can get middle school students to an eighth grade level or higher. Instructional time is a critical variable, as is appropriate grouping and pacing. If students in sixth grade are 3-6 years below grade level they will require intensive work on these skills -- much more than 30-50 minutes daily.

When I was successful with this population we had three hours daily of literacy instruction.

Anonymous said...

Palisadesk--

Great answer. It makes me think you have been doing great things for kids.

Can you give an example of a school that used REACH to get its students to the 8th grade level?

Where did you get those students to grade level? On what instrument?

According to greatschools.net Goethe scores in the top 10% of schools in California with its demographics.

But it has not had more than 16% of its 8th grade students score at the proficient level in reading during the past four years. Last year it was 11%. (Statewide 41% of California students score proficient at reading in 8th grade which makes "proficient" a pretty good proxy for "on grade level" I think.)

Is it fair to say only 11% of Geothe 8th graders are at grade level?

If so, why? did they drop REACH?

Or does it not get the job quite done?

Kathy said...

I've never seen the SFA or Open Court materials but I do know that several Connecticut schools use SFA. The foundation that funds my work also funds two schools who use SFA. I have not seen good state test scores from either project where SFA is done in the school.

I few schools in the SDP used SFA pre Vallas and again nothing spectacular happened.

I think the UK folks will be the first to figure out the workings of daily explicit instruction.

palisadesk said...

I can't speak for Goethe or any other specific school. I imagine they dropped REACH (or whetever) because there was a change of administration. My observation is that when a new superintendent/CEO/principal or whetever comes in, they toss out what was being used (even if it is very successful) and bring in something new. It is very similar to the old Soviet Five-Year Plans. Always gotta have some new thing to drum up money and enthusiasm. No one is really looking for what works, because only failure pays.

Remember that, the system is driven by student failure. Success would mean many experts and specialists would lose their jobs, there would be less money spent on all kinds of curricula and special materials, yadda yadda. However that's another topic.

I haven't been involved with REACH in any way but I know that they have put together a very comprehensive intervention plan. The programs do work (my experience with them precedes NCLB and the current initiatives), but the students have to be appropriately placed; the staff have to teach well, and the instructional time must be allotted. It is rare to find these requirements being met.

Transience is a problem in schools like Goethe. In many urban middle schools (including some I have worked in) the turnover ranges up to 50% in a given school year. It is hard to make sustained improvement in student achievement under such circumstances, but it is imperative to try anyway.

My students who reached eighth grade level or better were tested on the ITBS (maybe it was the CTBS -- can't remember now) as well as specific subject tests like the Gates-McGinitie. Not all students made this much improvement -- about half did so, others made a minimum of two academic years' measureable improvement in one academic year. This is what Engelmann suggests should be considered the minimum. I know they were successful, because we had a rigid track system in high school at the time, and the successful students went on to the advanced/honors track and subsequently to college and were successful there as well. But in 5th-6th grade they were unable to read or write.

No other curricula has better results that I know of. I'm always looking for a better mousetrap, so I would be happy to hear of something that delivers the goods more reliably and quickly than DI.

Anonymous said...

>>>I'm a firm believer in market based solutions, but for such solutions to work, you'd pretty much need to dismantle the entire public school system, the toxic education colleges, and all the special interest groups that have arisen that perpetuate the status quo.<<<

The above statement is incorrect.

You can continue to fund the wasteful education monopoly while creating a new funding stream that pays for free market solutions, which would be relatively inexpensive. The education colleges would be bypassed, the special interests would continue to get their patronage, etc.

Might be best to implement such a free market solution during the summer.

palisadesk said...

Re SFA, the research is to be interpreted with some caution.

Almost all of it is conducted by SFA or the spouses of SFA executives (in that respect it is very much like Reading Recovery research -- almost none is done by third parties without a financial interest in the program).


SFA also does not use national norms; instead, it compares its schools to "twinned" schools with similar demographics. Even then the results are only significant (in most cases) for first grade.

Herb Walberg and Stanley Pogrow and others have written some cogent critiques of SFA. It is extremely costly in $$ terms.

It may be that "whole school reform" models are not very effective given the way schools are organized. These models would probably work better if there were more encouragement of alternatives so that staff and parents also had some choice of school model.

KDeRosa said...

Here's my take, anon.

1a. That's probably the reason, the same reason why no one else compares their program to DI. I've also heard some criticism that even DI doesn't compare itself to other synthetic phonics programs, so it is a two way street.

1b. That is the trend, steal as much as you can from DI and try to put a more "child friendly" face on it. OC is almost as old as DI, so they didn't have DI to copy from and Slavin is an egomaniac from what I've heard.

1c. Yes, that would be the next logical step. But your only market would be DI students that completed up to level F (fifth grade), an exceedingluy thin market. Although, I believe the idea is that if a student has completed level F in DI they are ready fro a regular classroom. In fact level F instruction is already looks similar to traditional instruction.

2. I don't think the synthetic phonics component is a majority factor for teh ES increase. There are many SP progarms that are awful. There's more to it than that, though certainly I am not aware of any program that's been able to omit the SP component and still achieve good results with lower performers.

The research is thin for grades 6 and up, since inorder to get accurate results you need to start with low performers who are reading at a fifth grade level. That takes five years of work before the study can even begin.

You can see how this problem plays out with remedial students in this paper from the Goethe study.

What does it really take to get a student to go from a fifth grade reading level to an eighth grade level? I would think one year each of reading six, seventh, and eighth grade books which becomes difficult if the student is a struggling reader reading below a sixth grade level.

At these levels, rading is about comprehension and comprehension is about having lots of backgrouns knowledge, knowing the vocabulary, and the underlying concepts. It is difficult to acelerate this kind of learning. See here.

3. I'm not that familiar with Reading 180, but last I checked all its research has not been able to achieve positive results.

4. I can't get the full story from edweek for some reason, but I did see the study. Again, it's close to impossible to remediate kids at that level in a reasonable period of time which is probably all that study really showed.

The REACH program is mostly a remedial program that has been assembled from existing DI programs. See here

KDeRosa said...

You can continue to fund the wasteful education monopoly while creating a new funding stream that pays for free market solutions, which would be relatively inexpensive. The education colleges would be bypassed, the special interests would continue to get their patronage, etc.

I just don't think the current environment is conducive to a working market on such a small scale.

palisadesk said...

Re Open Court, a compelling book which you can probably get cheaply on some of the used book sites or half.com is Let's Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education
by Harold Henderson. See here: Amazon link

I bought some of the old Open Court (pre-McGraw-Hill takeover) on Ebay and they are excellent. You can't find reading material of that quality in any of the basals now (including the new Open Court)

KDeRosa said...

You can't find reading material of that quality in any of the basals now (including the new Open Court)

I found it very difficult to find highly decodable phonics based books. Ultimately, I settled on getting old Reading Mastery classroom materials from Ebay for the stories.

palisadesk said...

One middle school that regularly gets students to a secondary level (reading, writing and math) is Morningside Academy in Seattle. It's a lab school, and not public (although a number of its pupils are paid for by the local school system, which has given up trying to teach them).

They use some DI but have also developed a number of explicit programs of their own and emphasize the higher-order skills as well as the "basics."

Some info on the middle school level is here:
Morningside middle school

Also check out Kent Johnson's book, The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction available here: Cambridge Center

Here's an article by Drs. Johnson and Layng:
Generative Instruction

A bit of an aside, but an upbeat article was here:
Education Is A Science

Gotta go brave the lousy weather now.

Anonymous said...

>>>

I just don't think the current environment is conducive to a working market on such a small scale. <<<

What about supplemental educational services? That's already a $2 billion per year "working market" of free market tutoring vouchers for low income children. Why not extend the program to all students below grade level?

A recent Rand study of SES indicates it might be money well spent.

Anonymous said...

Morningside is fantastic, but it does not serve predominantly low income students.

The Goethe study is fantastic, but they still didn't get most of their middle school students to even the 6th grade level.

Goethe gets RELATIVELY great results, and it is a role model for that reason. But it still isn't getting the job done.

KDeRosa said...

That's why getting it right in elementary school is so important.

Anonymous said...

>>>I don't think the synthetic phonics component is a majority factor for teh ES increase.<<<

Fine, I will state it more broadly then: Efficient and effective instruction in decoding is the primary driver of the effect size increase.

That's why DI gets knocked for "losing" student gains. DI students score at the 90th percentile in 2nd grade when assessments mostly reflect decoding skills.

Then, as students get into upper elementary grades and standardized reading comprehension assessments require stronger vocabulary and critical reasoning skills, their test scores slip.

By 6th grade, students have run out of DI curriculum. And by 8th grade they typically score below grade level.

They are still much better off for having been through DI programs. They have great decoding skills their whole life.

And I'd rather be a low income 8th grader at the 40th percentile than one at the 16th percentile. (That's half a standard deviation!)

Anonymous said...

>>>>>>What does it really take to get a student to go from a fifth grade reading level to an eighth grade level? I would think one year each of reading six, seventh, and eighth grade books which becomes difficult if the student is a struggling reader reading below a sixth grade level.<<<<<<

I disagree with this strongly. Reading grade level texts is the most common but LEAST time efficient method of improving vocabulary and critical reasoning skills.

Students develop background knowledge and vocabulary VERY slowly through free reading of grade level texts.

And often they improve their reasoning skills not at all.
A much better idea is to teach them vocabulary and reasoning skills explicitly and systemically--the same way DI teaches decoding.

And teach the skills diagnostically. Two students with a 100 word English vocabulary will only have about 50 words in common. So mastery vocabulary instruction should be individualized. I suggest using software.


>>>At these levels, reading is about comprehension and comprehension is about having lots of background knowledge, knowing the vocabulary, and the underlying concepts. It is difficult to accelerate this kind of learning. See here.<<<

I disagree. Becker wrote that study 30 years ago.

We have made great strides in our understanding of high frequency vocabulary instruction since then.

Check out the recently released academic word list: http://language.massey.ac.nz/staff/awl/

Students can understand 90% of the words in COLLEGE level texts by mastering less than 3,000 vocabulary words. Why aren't these words include in the various state reading standards instead of the indecipherable mush currently found in them?

And background knowledge? We are talking about 8th grade level reading here.

8th grade level reading doesn't require much background knowledge. Textbooks presume very little. Newspapers presume very little. 8th grade level standardized tests presume NONE. Grab some sample passages and post them if you like.

What students need is explicit instruction in high frequency vocabulary. And then they need to drill critical reading skills so they infer unknown concepts embedded in texts.

This would certainly prepare them for standardized tests and college textbooks, which don't presume much background knowledge.

But if you insist they have the background knowledge to understand the New York Times arts or science sections, teach the the contents of the dictionary of cultural literacy. The authors used computers to identify frequent references in the New York Times readers were presumed to know. The most frequent references are included in the book.

Anonymous said...

>>>That's why getting it right in elementary school is so important.<<<

I'm not sure this is true. REACH can get students quickly up to the 5th-6th grade level, which is all the farther a good DI elementary school takes its students.

Anonymous said...

>>>>I can't get the full story from edweek for some reason, but I did see the study. Again, it's close to impossible to remediate kids at that level in a reasonable period of time which is probably all that study really showed.<<<<<

I don't agree with this at all.

The problem is the two interventions selected for that $7 mllion study are crapola. They don't teach vocabulary explictly and they don't drill critical reasoning skills.

Of course they didn't work. Why would they?

But not because it's impossible, only because the interventions made no sense.

An analogy would be a whole language intervention for non-readers in the elementary grades.

That wouldn't work either -- but not because it's impossible to get the students to grade level.

KDeRosa said...

I think we are talking past each other Anon, assuming all the anons ae the same anon.

Let me clarify.

re DI losing ground in later grades. There is some truth to this although most DI schools only teach the reading program and rarely teach the full complement of spelling, writing & reasoning, and us history programs which focus on content, reasoning, vocabulary, comprehension. The other problem is that the low SES schools where DI is frequently taught have high mobility rates making it difficult to keep a class of students who have made it through all the levels.

re the edweek story, my point is that the reserarch doesn't tell us much of anything. the reading programs likely stink, but the gains made, if any, by the students will likely not show up in the testing instrument if the studenst were far below grade level. see the goethe paper which explains the problem.

re Reach, REACH is only rebundled DI programs that were designed to teach grades 1-5. It still looks like you can only make about a year to two years progress for every school year taught. I'm not so sure that's so quick.

re critical reasoning skills, DI has a separate program to teach these, Writing and Reasoning. And I agree that explicitly teaching vocabulary is the way to go, though this too is time consuming and not amenable to acceleration according to Becker. things have not changed since Becker's paper. Even teaching 3000 words at 300 words a year amounts to 10 years of study. In fact quite a lot of high frequency words are taught in the DI spelling program which teches spelling through morphographs.

In any event, you still need to be an expert reader to keep up a legitimate middle school high school content and that means getting everything right in elementary school and following up on gains promptly.

Anonymous said...

>>>I think we are talking past each other Anon, assuming all the anons ae the same anon.<<<

I agree we are talking past each other, but I am still getting lots out of the exchange.

>>>>>There is some truth to this although most DI schools only teach the reading program and rarely teach the full complement of spelling, writing & reasoning, and us history programs which focus on content, reasoning, vocabulary, comprehension. The other problem is that the low SES schools where DI is frequently taught have high mobility rates making it difficult to keep a class of students who have made it through all the levels.<<<<<

Great point! There must be school somewhere that teaches all the DI programs. And they should have a cohort of low income students that has stayed with them through the years.

Does anyone know of such a school? And does that school have a cohort at grade level in 8th grade?

The country could use a national model.

>>>>re the edweek story, my point is that the reserarch doesn't tell us much of anything. the reading programs likely stink, but the gains made, if any, by the students will likely not show up in the testing instrument if the studenst were far below grade level. see the goethe paper which explains the problem.<<<<

Not to nitpick, but the instrument they used (called GRADE) should have no problem detecting growth.

In fact, the students did show one year's growth, from grade level to grade level 6.

The problem is that the control group showed exactly the same growth, not that it couldn't be captured by the assessment tool.

>>>>re Reach, REACH is only rebundled DI programs that were designed to teach grades 1-5. It still looks like you can only make about a year to two years progress for every school year taught. I'm not so sure that's so quick.<<<<

Two years in one should catch them up by high school.

Students typically start 7th grade at the 4th grade level (that's how far phonics takes you.)

After two years of instruction at two grade levels per year they would be reading at the 8th grade level and about to start 9th grade. Pretty good.

I think the real problem is reach does not actually get two grade levels per year.

More likely, it moves students who read at the third grade level up to the 5th grade level in one year and then they level off.

Why? Because it doesn't have an intensive vocabulary instruction component and phonics and reasoning skills only take you so far.

Anonymous said...

>>>re critical reasoning skills, DI has a separate program to teach these, Writing and Reasoning. And I agree that explicitly teaching vocabulary is the way to go, though this too is time consuming and not amenable to acceleration according to Becker. things have not changed since Becker's paper. <<<<


Teaching vocabulary is NOT too time consuming these days.

#1) You don't have to teach all 3,000 words because--

a) That's enough to read college textbooks. We just want to get students to be able to handle high school level reading.

b) Students learn many of those 3,000 words without being taught, such as the word "summer."

#2) Becker misses the fact the high frequency vocabulary is being reinforced naturally through general school reading. Once you teach a child the meaning of the high frequency word like "exactly" they will see that word so often in their regular school reading that they won't need much spaced practice to recall the word's meaning.

Paul Nation is likely the world's top researcher vocabulary -- he thinks three or four repetitions might be all that are necessary.

Also, once students begin high frequency vocabulary instruction reading becomes much less frustrating, so they do more of it.

>>>>Even teaching 3000 words at 300 words a year amounts to 10 years of study. In fact quite a lot of high frequency words are taught in the DI spelling program which teches spelling through morphographs.<<<

Students can realistically learn about 10 new words per hour.

Let's say we had a one hour elective course like the one in the $7 million study that got zero gains.

If students are taught 10 new unknown words per day for 180 days (one school year) that's 1,800 words right there. Add in the 1,200 word vocabulary they started with and you already should have them reading college level text books!

Di teaches how many words in spelling through morphographs? Maybe only a few hundred?

I think the problem is they may be doing too many repetitions since they are trying to teach spelling, not vocabulary?

KDeRosa said...

There are some schools in the Baltimore Curriculum Project, especially the City Springs school, that scored well at the fifth grade level. I think there is data from some schools in Utah that go up to fifth garde as well, though that data is not online. There's not much out therre in the way of long longitudinal experiments like this.

Students typically start 7th grade at the 4th grade level (that's how far phonics takes you.)


It is probably more accurate to say that it typical takes a school seven years to teach the amount of reading that could be taught in four using a well designed phonics program. Hence, there isn't sufficient time to get past a fourth grade. Plus, at this point you've probably got a bunch of damaged kids with poor motivation.

Why? Because it doesn't have an intensive vocabulary instruction component and phonics and reasoning skills only take you so far.

I've heard this before. It may have even been by you. The problem is the lack of data showing success with such a program. The hypothesis does seems reasonable.

Anonymous said...

>>>In any event, you still need to be an expert reader to keep up a legitimate middle school high school content and that means getting everything right in elementary school and following up on gains promptly.<<<

As explained above, I don't think the elementary schools need to get everything right if the middle schools are on the ball.

Even if students go to elementary schools that offer Direct Instruction, they will only be on average one year ahead of students who went to cruddy elementary schools in 9th grade. (Myer, 1984)

You don't *need* a good elementary education because you won't "miss out" on middle school content. Middle schools don't teach much content that isn't repeated in high school anyway. Students can take algebra, for example, in 9th grade and they will be fine.

If middle schools can get their students to grade level on basic skills during middle school, missing out on the content instruction ("social studies") won't hurt them.

Perhaps middle school students who can't read at grade level should do ONLY intensive reading and vocabulary instruction for four hours per day until they are caught up. It could replace everything but math. No science, no art, no social studies, no gym, no music, no health class, no industrial arts, no "literature" -- just reading skills instruction and math class until you can read at grade level.

Arizona is doing something like this with English learners, where new students essentially cram English all day until they get caught up.

Instead of trying to fix elementary schools, maybe we should focus on fixing middle schools.

We can get low income students on track in middle school the same way ivy league universities gets top public school students on track after their enter college without having read Othello.

Anonymous said...

>>>It is probably more accurate to say that it typical takes a school seven years to teach the amount of reading that could be taught in four using a well designed phonics program.<<<

I think a well designed phonics program teaches students to read in one year.

So 2nd graders in a good phonics program read at the 3rd grade level and score off the charts.

In 3rd grade they read at the 3rd grade level and score pretty good.

In 4th grade they read at the 3rd grade level and start to look behind.

In 5th grade they are definitely behind.

>>>I've heard this before. It may have even been by you. The problem is the lack of data showing success with such a program. The hypothesis does seems reasonable.<<<

I'm not sure there is a lack of relevant data, but it is with a different population.

There is a ton of data on the effectiveness of high frequency vocabulary instruction with adults.

Lots and lots of data is out there on teaching adult college level learners learning English as a second language. That means studies conducted with populations that have critical reasoning skills and decoding skills and just lack vocabulary skills.

Most low income middle school students lack critical reasoning skills as well as vocabulary skills. I suspect DI programs (such as Reasoning and Writing) can address their critical reasoning skills but not their vocabulary skills. Decoding problems are definitely easy to fix with DI.

So the missing link is high frequency vocabulary instruction.

Check out the work by Paul Nation or Tom Cobb for lots and lots of data on the effectiveness of high frequency vocabulary instruction.

Anonymous said...

>>>There are some schools in the Baltimore Curriculum Project, especially the City Springs school, that scored well at the fifth grade level. I think there is data from some schools in Utah that go up to fifth garde as well, though that data is not online. There's not much out therre in the way of long longitudinal experiments like this.<<<

According to the link, the city springs 5th graders are at the 87th percentile in reading.

Sincere reaction: Fantastic results. And pretty amazing!

But it will be heartbreaking if at the end of 9th grade those same students are only one year ahead of their peers from other elementary schools, who will be reading at grade level 6.1 while the city springs students will likely read at 7.1.

As noted in my posts above, BOTH groups of students could be reading at grade level in 9th grade if offered intensive instruction in high frequency vocabulary, critical reasoning and decoding.

Of course, for the city springs students it would only take one year to get them there, while for their peers from inferior elementary schools it would take two.

Anonymous said...

>>>Cal said: I didn't agree with his point, which was that the way to improve reading comprehension is to give kids a wider breadth of reading material. What we really need to do is spend more time drilling vocabulary, which will help the kids who don't like to read.<<<

I agree with Cal.

Anonymous said...

>>>The single greatest shortcoming of NCLB is that it measures schools when schools are extensions of school districts and thus not in a position to take actions and set policies that'll improve their performance. Inept or uniformed district administration will almost always trump ept and informed school administration. NCLB hands out umbrellas to take care of the problem of a leaky roof.<<<

But NCLB also created a $2 billion SES industry.

SES = patching the leaky roof.

Anonymous said...

>>>Could you please list some of these successful models? I myself don't see DI models being accepted by the education community, is there anything else out there working? I use materials from the early 70's and they would not be accepted either.<<

I would suggest using educational software, such as Headsprout.com

Educators who dislike effective skills curriculum like DI often don't mind it if it is delivered with computers for some reason.

KDeRosa said...

Even if students go to elementary schools that offer Direct Instruction, they will only be on average one year ahead of students who went to cruddy elementary schools in 9th grade. (Meyer, 1984)


I'm pretty certain that study was related to project follow through in which K-3 students got reading, spelling, and math instruction in DI, then they went back to a traditional curriculum in their lousy schools full of students far behind them for six years and still managed to stay a year ahead. That's not too bad and if anything an indictment on what went on during the intervening six years.

Instead of trying to fix elementary schools, maybe we should focus on fixing middle schools.


I agree that middle school is largely three years of review of material that could have been taught in elementary school.

But it is much easier to teach something right the first time than to remediate something taught wrong. And, it would be much easier to get students up to speed if the middle school years could be devoted to actual content and vocabulary learning and practice reading increasingly difficult texts using that new content and vocabulary.

KDeRosa said...

I think a well designed phonics program teaches students to read in one year.

I agree for most students. However, it takes two years for low performers.

After that, at least in the DI programs, time is spent improving decoding, fluency, and comprhensionstartegies but explicit phonics instruction is largely over.

Fourth grade, the year that students get out of controlled readers, should only be a problem if there has been no vocabulary and content instruction. That's what the city springs data shows in which students did get that instruction.

I'm not sure there is a lack of relevant data, but it is with a different population.

And I'm not so sure that population is comparable. Teaching English as L2 to non-low-performing students is much easier than teaching English as L1 to lower performers. The English/L@ students already now the underlying concepts and its just a matter of learning new woreds for those concepts.

I do agree that vocabulary instruction is esential.

Anonymous said...

KD--

I have enjoyed this exchange very much. Thanks for putting the effort in.

>>>And I'm not so sure that population is comparable. Teaching English as L2 to non-low-performing students is much easier than teaching English as L1 to lower performers. The English/L@ students already now the underlying concepts and its just a matter of learning new woreds for those concepts.<<<

I think the research on teaching adult English learners is extremely relevant, but I expect there are also some studies out there on low income children getting high frequency vocabulary instruction as well.

Rule: We shouldn't assume the data doesn't exist just because we haven't seen it.

Moving on, here is our key point of disagreement:

I don't think the key difference with adult english learners is that they students know a bunch of underlying concepts in their native tongue that come to bear when reading in English and low income children do not. I think it is that the adult learners have critical reasoning skills and the low income children do not.

Most reading, especially textbook reading and passages on standardized tests, assumes very little or zero underlying background knowledge.

The fact that someone understands the concept of photosynthesis in their native language doesn't impact their comprehension of a newspaper article much that refers to the concept much.

A reader can always go ahead and google "photosynthesis" if they absolutely have to in order to "get" the article.

What does impact their comprehension is their ability to reason critically. For example, they need to be able to correctly recall a sentence and draw a logical conclusion (correlation is not causation, for example.)

Let's look at a real passage from the high school graduation exam in California (released item)--

What does the phrase "disappear over the horizon" mean in the following sentence: The reward in working with a trained falcon is the companionship of creatures that can choose at any time to disappear over the horizon forever.

a)return to the falconer
b)abandon the falconer
c)go behind some trees
d) fly very high


Does it take background knowledge to answer this question?

Or just vocabulary, fluency and critical reasoning skills?

I would argue that zero background knowledge is required, as long as you know the high frequency vocabulary in the sentence your fine. You don't even need to know the low frequency vocabulary word (falcon) to get the right answer.

Anonymous said...

"I found it very difficult to find highly decodable phonics based books."

I'm a special ed teacher. Check out Lippincott's Basic Reading (Exploring, Jumping Up, etc.). Great decodables for 1st and 2nd grade. I also got my hands on a 1989 set of 3rd grade Open Court books and workbooks. Also very good.

Whoever owns the rights to LBR should reissue their decodables. Update the illustrations and photographs and you've got better books than anything out there.

SJ said...

"...I think that any successful reading technique has to begin with an understanding of the logic of our alphabet...", -Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University

http://www.edge.org/q2007/q07_9.html

"We need to push harder for an education system that teaches
evidence-based decision making while we hold our public leaders to a higher standard and less partisan behavior as we attempt to tackle some of the historically most difficult challenges facing the future of humanity." - J. Craig Venter, Human Genome Decoder; Director, The J. Craig Venter Institute

The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling
Attainment: A seven year longitudinal study

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/36496/0023582.pdf

Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading: Final Report, Jim
Rose, March 2006

http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/phonics/report.pdf

How phonics became easy as a-b-c: A report on how young children in
England should be taught to read is expected to endorse a
phonics-based approach.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4794696.stm

Reading system goes into schools

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6765287.stm

Study spells success for phonics

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/7147813.stm

The 'Simple View of Reading'

http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/primaryframeworks/downloads/PDF/Paper_on_searchlights_model.pdf

The Usefulness of Brief Instruction in Reading Comprehension Strategies

http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/winter06-07/CogSci.pdf

How Knowledge Helps

http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/spring06/willingham.htm

The National Reading Panel report and Reading First are important
advances in reading instruction, but they're incomplete. As Dr. Dan
Willingham states, "RF has become crystallized as the final word on
reading in state and federal legislation..." Published in 2000, the NRP report said nothing about background knowledge or spelling and important evidence continues to accumulate supporting synthetic
phonics as the most effective way to teach decoding skills (The Rose
Report).

Unfortunately, Reading First doesn't discern between the most
effective phonics programs (synthetic phonics) and less effective methods. Reading research has moved on...It's time for RF to catch up. We need to teach our kids to read by using an evidence-based synthetic phonics approach.

Sadly, Reading First isn't the last word in schools of Ed or school districts. Many school districts continue to use whole language approaches such as "balanced literacy." They teach phonics, but it's some whole language guru's (Pat Cunningham, Fountas & Pinnell) ineffectual approach.

Cal said...

Well,I'm glad someone finally pointed out that I mentioned vocabulary first! I was feeling left out.

I couldn't track much of the conversation because of the many or just one anonymouses (sp?), but I did want to make one comment about reading comprehension: I believe it is *much* higher than tested in many populations.

NAEP scores are largely worthless, because they are low stakes writing exercises, not reading. I have seen phenomenal improvement in reading comprehension scores just by teaching students to look for main ideas, understand how paragraphs and words signal organization and thought flow, and so on. A lot of things that heavy readers take for granted aren't that intuitive.

The problem I see is that many teachers treat reading as an essential element for moral improvement. This annoys me no end. Reading is a tool first. It can also be an instrument for instruction, but before anything it must be a reliable means of acquiring information. I find many students are willing to dive in and take on difficult topics even for a purpose as odd as "doing better on a reading comp test", once they know how to look for things.

So I believe students can be taught to do more with their existing skills, which are higher than generally assumed. That doesn't mean we shouldn't drill vocab, because the easier it is to acquire information, the readier they'll be to read.

Anonymous said...

>>>I have seen phenomenal improvement in reading comprehension scores just by teaching students to look for main ideas, understand how paragraphs and words signal organization and thought flow, and so on. A lot of things that heavy readers take for granted aren't that intuitive.<<<

Cal,

Can you elaborate on this?

I have maintained for a while that if students have strong fundamental critical reasoning skills -- such as short term recall, deductive reasoning, inference, etc -- they usually do not need to be taught "higher level" skills such as finding main ideas.

Cal said...

All of those skills you list are skills of (for lack of a better word) abstraction. Not everyone is good at generalizing. Concrete reasoning dominates the lower half of the abilities spectrum. These skills are largely innate, I believe. Besides, I'd rather give the kids a skill that they can use and instantly see the use in.

So perhaps--a big perhaps--you can improve kids' ability to infer and reason. However, I find that just by giving them the skills to find main ideas, understand the point of the questions, and understand how writers construct arguments, they are able to use their existing (if limited) skills far more effectively and see far more immediate results.

Anonymous said...

Also, what Cal says is far less intimidating to many students than terms you are using.

Plus, many reform curriculums are using these terms early in grade school. Higher-ordered thinking for the group that can't decode well yet.

I have a son who reads well ahead of level who almost had a meltdown trying to retain the meaning of all of the new terms (inference, deductive reasoning, transitions), all terms that need to come later when children actually exhibit higher-ordered thinking skills.

If you want to introduce these concepts to young children than the language needs to be more accessible to the young child. "Activate Prior Knowledge" is not the best way to communicate with 1st graders even though you might have a couple who can figure out what you mean.

You're putting the horse before the cart, IMHO, and the middle school and high school teachers are going to have a time remediating the mess left behind. Many of us parents have been forced to do that already.

Susan

Anonymous said...

>>>So perhaps--a big perhaps--you can improve kids' ability to infer and reason.<<<

I don't think this is a big perhaps. I don't think it is even a perhaps.

Can anyone else comment on the success of programs for teaching inference?

Note to Susan: I don't think what Cal is advocating is less intimidating.

The opposite often true, however. For example, students get frustrated by main idea exercises when they lack basic cognitive skills needed to be successful on such relatively complex tasks.



However, I find that just by giving them the skills to find main ideas, understand the point of the questions, and understand how writers construct arguments, they are able to use their existing (if limited) skills far more effectively and see far more immediate results.

>>>However, I find that just by giving them the skills to find main ideas, understand the point of the questions, and understand how writers construct arguments, they are able to use their existing (if limited) skills far more effectively and see far more immediate results.<<<

I would love to see some data to support your experiences here.

Does anyone know of any?

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Some of it has to do with developmental timing. When you take grade-schoolers and skip the foundational skills, jumping to the "thinking skills," where do you think the core skills are going to come from?

Middle-schoolers, on the other hand, would probably be more successful I (hopefully, because they have the fundamentals mastered.) I'm not sure why you don't see that.

I don't have data. I am the mother of a special ed child with a severe writing disability and an across-the-board gifted kid. When the gifted kid sailed through his grade school reform writing curriculum with no idea how to write for middle school, I realized that I had a problem.

There is no data because most of these curriculums are designed to cater to the state tests. Much like math reform, problems won't emerge until later and many won't know why.

But when you have a smart middle-schooler who can't spell or properly use punctuation due to the massive emphasis on grade school "thinking skills," then there is a problem. If you don't believe it, talk to high school and college teachers.

And let me comment on the success of schools teaching inferencing, and other critical thinking concepts used in the new writing curriculums (again, I'm speaking of grade school and my own personal experience with one such curriculum.) There is a lot of practice and discussion on these topics until the state tests roll around. Then there is a massive push (taught quite rotely, if you must know) to ram down 5-paragraph essay structure to kids as young as the third grade.

These same kids do not know good sentence structure, they do not know grammar, they do not know their punctuation rules, and they can't spell. They have been journaling mostly, and learning to think. When they have to produce this big essay, they are taught to mimic a structure that they don't understand because it was only taught in a rush to pass the test.

But they dutifully do it and it all looks good to the parents. The teachers have gotten their NCLB requirements out of the way and now they can get back to the fun of teaching "thinking."

Susan

Anonymous said...

>>>Some of it has to do with developmental timing. When you take grade-schoolers and skip the foundational skills, jumping to the "thinking skills," where do you think the core skills are going to come from?

Middle-schoolers, on the other hand, would probably be more successful I (hopefully, because they have the fundamentals mastered.) I'm not sure why you don't see that.<<<

Susan,

There is nothing more "foundational" then basic critical reasoning skills, even for elementary students.

Your comment about journaling makes me wonder if you are being thrown off the scent by programs that claim to teach thinking skills but actually do not teach anything.

Check out the Direct Instruction program Language for Learning for an example of an effective program for developing cognitive skills with children who haven't yet been taught reading and spelling.