Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

June 13, 1990 3 min read
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Connie Weaver’s letter (“Phonics, Whole Language Said To Be ‘Incompatible,”’ May 9, 1990) once again misstated the findings from the research report Wesley Becker and I published in 1982.

Based on her reading, she “inferred” that the difference in reading-comprehension performance between students taught beginning reading with a direct instruction-phonics approach and comparison students taught with a range of traditional basal series favored the comparison students.

She reached this conclusion by “comparing the decoding scores with the total reading scores in one of their tables.”

All I can conclude is that she subtracted the decoding score on the Wide Range Achievement Test from the total-reading score on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (as presented in Table 5 of the report).

This technique is totally inappropriate. One cannot subtract subtests of one test from composite scores of a different test.

This approach makes even less sense in the current instance, since there was no decoding subtest on the mat This test’s total-reading score is a composite of the comprehension and the vocabulary subtests. Thus, she subtracted each community’s mean decoding score from the average of its vocabulary and comprehension scores.

Ms. Weaver seemed to ignore the preceding three tables in the report. All are essential for understanding the results of the study; all address comprehension.

Table 2 indicated no instances of basal students’ outperforming students taught beginning reading with a phonics approach (the Follow Through students) and four instances of significant effects favoring the Follow Through students in comprehension.

Table 3 showed a significant overall effect in comprehension for 5th grade. Table 4 showed a mean effect of 0.15 standard units--equivalent to approximately 6 percentile points--favoring the former Follow Through students in comprehension.

There are no data in this report--which involved analysis of reading performance of 1,000 students over a six-year period in five disadvantaged communities--that support Ms. Weaver’s “inference.”

I agree with Ms. Weaver that our study hardly resolves the issue of effective beginning-reading instruction for low-income students. I strongly urge her and her colleagues to conduct longitudinal studies such as ours to investigate the effectiveness of whole-language approaches.

Russell Gersten Associate Professor College of Education University of Oregon Eugene, Ore.

Your story on placement problems in bilingual-education programs (“5-Year Study Faults Placement Practices for L.E.P. Students,” May 2, 1990) was not news.

Validity problems with placement tests were brought to the attention of the U.S. Education Department in 1980 in an internal study by the National Institute of Education.

In 1985, the Education Department contracted with Pelavin Associates to examine the problem. This study concluded that the brand of test the school bought was the primary determinant of placement in a bilingual-education program.

Between 1984 and 1986, at least eight articles and publicly presented papers pointed out that bilingual-education placement procedures had no validity.

The Research Triangle Institute report that was the subject of your article confirmed what was already well known.

The point you missed, and the point that is news, is: Why has the Education Department ignored this problem? It has known for nearly a decade that many students are misassigned to bilingual education, while others who should be in the programs are improperly placed in regular classrooms by these faulty procedures.

Keith Baker Research on English Acquisition and Development Silver Spring, Md.

I agree with Lou Gerstner’s evaluation that education “is too important to be left to the educators” (“Fortune Studies Corporate Role in Schools,” In the Press, May 16, 1990).

But I found it quite entertaining that such a statement would come from the chief executive officer of rjr Nabisco.

My many years in education have solidified at least one thought: Children learn what they perceive to be important in their society.

If Mr. Gerstner wanted his business to have a postive impact on the health of Americans, he could promote sucking on fruit rather than cigarettes.

If he would like his company to be a leader in moral education, the corporation could make itself known as a sponsor of educational programming rather than one of profanity and illicit sex on television.

John P. Taylor McConnelsville, Ohio

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 1990 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor

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