April 27, 2006

Reading Recovery -- On Life Support

Looks like my post on Reading Recovery ruffled some feathers of the pro-Reading Recovery crowd. Even if you shoot the messenger for bearing the bad news, the bad news isn't going to go away. And what is that bad news? I'm glad you asked:

  1. RR only claims to be able to raise the performance of the "lowest students" in the class up to the average performance of the class. This means that in a typical inner city school peforming at the 20th precentile, RR only promises to raise the performance of the "lowest students" up to the 20th percentile not grade level (50th percentile). Gee, that's quite an accomplishment, turning non-readers into slighhtly better non-readers. Pop the champagne!

  2. I put lowest students in scare quotes because RR appears to define lowest students in a way that excludes the actual lowest performers. RR doesn't accept students who lack the prerequisite skills to enter the program and/or students already in special-education. One study (Battelle (1995)) reported that these excluded students numbered 19%. Most likely the bottom 19%.

  3. According to the same study, another 21% of students never complete the course because they fail to make adequate progress and another 9% complete the course but don't get up to the classroom average, which, as I indicated above, can still be considerably below grade level. I'm thinking that these students also inhabit the lower end of the performance curve.

  4. So let's recap: When RR talks about its success rate, they've excluded about half the students who weren't eligible for treatment, who were thrown out of treatment, and who didn't pass treatment. Talk about triage: they toe tag the sickest patients and only "cure" the ones who are only a little sick. One study (Hiebert, 1994) estimated that the average RR student had an entry score of the 34.5th percentile. What about the kids in the bottom quintile? I guess we need another program for them. And, why can't we just use that better program to remediate these higher performing kids? It can't be more expensive.

  5. Then there's the issue of how RR defines "reading." The average RR student completes RR at a level in which they are reading from texts that are still very predictable. This means that children can read words without looking closely at them. The children rely more on the contextual clues, the illustrations, and the repeated sentence patterns in the text. Children who use these contextual strategies to read are more likely to be successful in predictable text than in authentic text. Consequently, children from RR may not read authentic text very well at all when they are returned to the classroom as "successful." The strategies they have learned for reading may not generalize to real reading.

Add, all this up and it's easy to see why there's little recovery in the RR treatment.

I suppose if this were my pet program, I'd have my panties in a bunch too, seeing these results.

I'm thinking if RR were a drug it'd be classified as snake oil.

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