School & District Management Report Roundup

Lack of Proof Seen on Reading Text

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 16, 2008 1 min read
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Houghton Mifflin Reading, a popular textbook for teaching literacy in the early grades, cannot be given an effectiveness rating by the What Works Clearinghouse because existing research provides insufficient evidence of its impact on student learning, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The textbook is the latest of several widely used early reading series that failed to meet the rigorous review standards of the online clearinghouse, which evaluates data on educational programs and practices.

Last month, reports by the clearinghouse on Open Court Reading and Reading Mastery, as well as Breakthrough to Literacy—all products of the New York City-based McGraw-Hill Cos.—contended that no studies that met the clearinghouse’s rigorous review requirements.

The latest review looked at nine studies of Houghton Mifflin Reading between 1985 and 2007. The text is one of just two approved for use in California elementary schools, and is used across the country.

Six of the studies on the program had the necessary experimental design to be included in the review, but they either did not have sufficient information about the comparison group or there were “confounding factors” that made it impossible to determine the effect of the program on student outcomes, the new report says. Another study was rejected because it did not have an equivalent comparison group, while two others did not have sufficient information on the ages or grade ranges of students being studied.

Company Defends Product

The publisher, based in Boston, said the findings do not reflect the program’s success.

“For over a decade, the Houghton Mifflin Reading series have boosted student reading ability and achievement in schools throughout the nation,” spokesman Rick Blake wrote in an e-mail. “We believe the results in the classroom speak for themselves.”

The report is part of a series of reviews on beginning reading programs that the clearinghouse began releasing last year. Only a handful of the dozens of programs the clearinghouse studied were determined to have any positive effects on student learning. Those results have led many reading research experts to question the usefulness of the reviews.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week

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