Reading & Literacy

Panel Urges Study Of Reading Comprehension

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — February 07, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With a considerable body of research on how children acquire basic reading skills already established, more attention needs to be directed toward building a sustained and systematic study of reading comprehension, a panel of experts concludes.

The draft report from a reading study group assembled by the RAND Corp. suggests that research on how children develop skills in reading and understanding many types of texts will be one of the most urgent needs for reading researchers and teachers over the next 10 to 15 years.

For More Information

The Rand Reading Study Group provides its draft report, “Reading for Understanding: Towards an R&D Program in Reading Comprehension,” as well as reviews of the report by experts in the field and reader comment forms. (The draft report requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“Reading for Understanding: Towards an R&D Program in Reading Comprehension” outlines a plan for finding out which curriculum and instructional practices best promote comprehension skills, as well as effective ways to assess those skills. The report was prepared for the U.S. Department of Education’s office for educational research and improvement.

‘Much To Learn’

While improving reading skills in the early grades will depend primarily on translating research findings into practice, the 73-page report says, “we still have much to learn ... about how children become good comprehenders, how to design and deliver instruction, and how to prevent comprehension failure.”

Becoming skillful readers—those who can read with ease and interest a variety of materials for pleasure, learning, and analysis—depends on students’ reading and vocabulary skills, world knowledge, motivation and purpose for reading, and awareness of the structures of various types of text, the study panel says.

Prominent research in recent years has focused on the acquisition of early literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness (the understanding that words are made up of sounds and letters), decoding (or sounding out) of words, and word recognition. Such research has led to a trend toward explicit, systematic phonics instruction in the early grades.

Reading achievement, as gauged by state and national test scores, often drops after 4th grade, when students are required to master increasingly complex subject-based material.

The performance of middle school students in particular—33 percent of 8th graders demonstrated proficiency on the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, while 26 percent of the students lacked basic skills—has begun to focus attention on adolescent literacy. But the teaching of comprehension—a skill commonly assumed to develop merely by reading—is often minimal and ineffective, the study panel said.

“The public discourse about improving reading achievement has oversimplified the issues by suggesting that once we all have children reading at grade 3, that is it—we’re home free,” said Catherine Snow, a Harvard University education professor who headed the 14-member panel.

“But real problems emerge in middle school and later grades, even for children who it turns out are doing fine at the end of grade 3,” she said.

Ms. Snow, the current president of the American Educational Research Association, chaired the committee that in 1998 wrote the influential National Research Council report “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.”

Rigorous and Relevant

The RAND study group recommends that the OERI research agenda demand rigorous quantitative and qualitative studies. And, if the federal research is to have an impact on reading instruction and achievement, “the concerns of practitioners need to be incorporated from the beginning, and the work must be seen as contributing to practice, rather than being exported to schools after the papers are published,” the draft report says.

But first, the panel says, the OERI must address concerns about the quality and relevance of educational research. The report suggests forming a panel of experts with extensive experience in independent research to review future research proposals submitted to the federal office.

Some experts praised the report for focusing on comprehension and for attempting to lay out a more dynamic and meaningful research role for the OERI.

“This is trying to move OERI into setting a research agenda ... rather than responding only to congressional mandates,” or the hot topics of the day, said Gerald R. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the educational research association, a Washington-based group representing 23,000 education researchers.

But others said a more comprehensive approach to reading research is necessary to help teachers improve reading achievement.

“It’s much too timid an agenda,” said Cathy Roller, the research director for the International Reading Association in Newark, Del. “We know about a lot of [teaching strategies] that work. The question is, which ones should we use with which kids at which point in time to make sure they all learn?”

The RAND proposal would not preclude such studies, Ms. Snow said. The final report will incorporate feedback from researchers and teachers and is expected to be released this spring.

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Panel Urges Study Of Reading Comprehension

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy The Key Parts of a 'Science of Reading' Transformation, According to One State Chief
Under Carey Wright's leadership, Mississippi pulled off a reading "miracle." She has a similar transformation in mind for Maryland.
6 min read
Dr. Carey Wright, the interim state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement with Stephen Sawchuk, an assistant managing editor for Education Week, during the 2024 Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va. on Friday, May 3, 2024.
Carey Wright, the state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement during Education Week's Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va., on May 3, 2024.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Reading & Literacy Teachers Are Still Teaching Older Students Basic Reading Skills, Survey Finds
Who across the K-12 spectrum engages frequently in activities that promote foundational reading skills? The answer may come as a surprise.
4 min read
Group of kids reading while sitting on the floor in the library
Zinkevych/iStock/Getty
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on The Science of Reading in Practice
This Spotlight will help you analyze new curricula designed to build knowledge, review the benefits of reading aloud to students, and more.
Reading & Literacy Opinion Readers Can Struggle at Any Age. Here's How Teachers Can Help
Struggling readers may be able to read the words but fail to make the necessary connections between ideas and their meaning.
8 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty