Reading & Literacy

Reading Program Benefits Some Calif. Schools

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — April 28, 2006 2 min read
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California schools using a popular, highly structured commercial reading program, coupled with other vital policies and practices, had higher performance scores on average under the state’s accountability system than similar schools, according to a supplementary analysis from a large-scale study.

But the results, released last month, do not indicate that the instructional materials are superior to other commonly used programs.

The report, “Similar Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Students Do Better?,” is available from Edsource.

The survey of 5,500 teachers and principals at more than 250 public elementary schools with the largest proportions of economically disadvantaged and minority students in California yields insights into instructional practices and their effect on student achievement, say researchers at Stanford University.

Use of the carefully sequenced Open Court Reading program alone did not appear to improve test results. When combined with other factors—including teacher buy-in, close adherence to the program, strong leadership, and assessment data to inform instruction—those schools using Open Court, published by the McGraw-Hill Cos., in New York City, scored an average of 17 points better than other schools.

“There’s no silver bullet; therefore, when you just go after a single thing and think you’re going to get results, that [approach] doesn’t appear important in our study,” said Michael W. Kirst, the principal investigator. “A number of practices and policies have to come together, and when you get the right combination, you get more of an effect.”

No Superiority

Edsource, a Mountain View, Calif.-based educational research organization, commissioned the study.

Researchers studied the specific practices that were “associated” with higher scores. “It was simply not possible to establish causal connections between specific curricula or school practices and API scores,” the report cautions. API is the state’s Academic Performance Index.

The researchers also did not prove that the Open Court text is superior to the Houghton Mifflin reading series used in the comparison schools.

“The study shows that fidelity of implementation is everything,” said Maureen DiMarco, the senior vice president of educational and governmental affairs for the Boston-based Houghton Mifflin. “I agree with the general conclusion that you have to make [the program] a priority and teach from it every day.”

Ms. DiMarco, a former California secretary of education, as well as several researchers say that the schools surveyed had wide variations in student demographics, a factor that makes comparisons difficult. The researchers say they accounted for those variations in their analysis.

A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2006 edition of Education Week as Reading Program Benefits Some Calif. Schools

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