To the Editor:
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings claims that the Reading First program should get some of the credit for gains on the 4th grade history and civics National Assessment of Educational Progress (“Test Gains Reigniting Old Debate,” May 23, 2007).
In a press release dated May 16, Ms. Spellings said that “just last month, my department released positive data on the effectiveness of the Reading First program. It showed significant improvement in the reading proficiency of our nation’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders.”
But it is not clear that Reading First deserves credit for anything.
A few hours spent examining the Education Department’s data will show that the “improvement” was not nearly as large as claimed, and that the figures masked significant variability among states, some failures to improve, and some declines (for my analysis, see “Reading First: ‘Impressive’ Gains?”).
There was, in addition, no comparison group, a serious violation of scientific method; gains could have resulted from factors other than Reading First. It also needs to be pointed out that one of the tests used, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, has serious problems, as discussed in detail by Kenneth S. Goodman in The Truth About DIBELS. As he notes, DIBELS is easily available on the Internet, which means that teachers or parents can drill their children on the actual test items.
The media have been filled with reports of serious ethical problems related to the Education Department’s administration of Reading First. Yet the claim that the program is working is accepted at face value. This is an unwise policy when dealing with the current administration in Washington.
University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2007 edition of Education Week as Does ‘Reading First’ Deserve Any Credit?