A New Research Mission at IES: Reading Comprehension

By Debra Viadero — May 12, 2009 1 min read
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Most reading research over the last 25 years has focused on how to help children learn to sound out or decode words. Relatively fewer studies have tackled the thorny problem of helping students understand the words they’re sounding out.

For instance, experts know that children who come to school with deeper stores of background knowledge, a richer vocabulary, or better oral-language skills tend to become better readers. The trick is how to help the students who lag behind their peers in those areas catch up and learn to read proficiently.

In an attempt to fill in the knowledge gap, the federal Institute of Education Sciences announced plans last week for an ambitious new research initiative called Reading for Understanding.

This is no typical research competition for IES, though. What the U.S. Department of Education agency wants to do is step up the pace of research on the problem over the next five years by putting together a mission team not unlike those that specialize in problems for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The R&D network that IES has in mind would include five core teams, each working on reading comprehension for a specific age span of students, such as grades 3 to 5 or grades 8 to 9. Scientists on each team would focus on understanding the underlying cognitive processes involved in reading comprehension, developing new instructional approaches to promote it, and figuring out if their interventions work. Another team would focus on advancing theoretical understanding of the problem and developing assessments to measure students’ progress in acquiring reading-comprehension skills.

The size of the awards for the project will vary, but IES, in its formal request for applications for the program, says the grants for each core R&D team will range from $2 million to $4 million a year. The assessment team could qualify for up to $3 million a year for its work.

Interested? You have until Aug. 3 to submit a letter of intent.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.