Legislative Action Team Advisory

Friday, May 23, 2008

Statement of the International Reading Association on Reading First

The national debate on reading in the United States has never wavered on one clear point, that excellent reading ability is essential for the success of students. Furthermore, most agree on the critical importance of teachers in fostering student success in reading. What has been under debate is determining how to create excellent readers.

The latest report on Reading First highlights the need to develop policy that schools and teachers can effectively implement. This preliminary report indicates that Reading First has not yet had a statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. This finding does not come as a surprise to reading educators, given the program’s emphasis in many states on instructional areas other than comprehension.

National policymakers need to look at a wider range of indicators in determining what works. These indicators should include data from individual states and school districts. By drawing on the data from individual states and districts, we will gain a much better picture of the conditions that helped, or did not help, teachers to advance children’s learning of comprehension and other reading proficiencies. We need to support teachers by providing them with the detailed information about best practices that can be culled from continued research on Reading First.

When teachers are given flexibility, resources, and evidence as to what is effective they can and do improve student reading. The data suggest that we must build programs that provide:
· the long-term professional development of teachers that is based on evidence and experience,
· the expansion of links between high-need K-12 schools and colleges of education to enhance the reading instruction in those schools,
· the flexibility for schools and school districts to meet the increasing needs of ELL students, struggling readers, and others who need reading instruction tailored to their needs and circumstances,
· middle and high school reading instruction that builds on the already improved elements of elementary school reading instruction, and
· a range of assessments to improve instruction.

The International Reading Association knows that teacher quality makes a difference. However, the policy community must help by changing both statutes and regulations to provide for more research on what is effective instruction, flexibility for teachers in determining how best to meet the needs of their students, and support for the effective implementation of reading programs.

The latest data on Reading First should be seen for what they are—a call to look closely at reading instruction in our schools and how we can support our children and our teachers. We need to work together to develop policies in an open and transparent environment that will result in improvements in reading instruction and achievement.

We can make a difference with our children. But it will require collaboration between policy makers and educators.