Reading Recovery: More chipping and shredding in Fargo!

What makes this article from Fargo interesting is how it almost exactly mirrors the findings in my home district, Hortonville, and the recent analysis of Reading Recovery done in Madison. That being, a 50% success rate for RR students. From the article:

“However, West Fargo student data over time, as presented by Director of Knowledge Management Holly Budzinski Monday night, show that while this is happening in the short term, it?s not something the students sustain in the long run. The Administration has been scrutinizing the Reading Recovery program since two days after Budzinski arrived in West Fargo last January, and she has found that the majority of students served by Reading Recovery gradually lose their abilities to meet the class average by the time they reach sixth grade.”

This findings support claims by Chapman, et. al., in New Zealand, who discovered RR results wash out over time. More from the news article.

“For example, one of Budzinski?s several studies into elementary school student achievement in West Fargo showed that while 57 percent of students served by Reading Recovery were able to meet the grade level as measured by a Developmental Reading Assessment after the first grade, by the time they had reached sixth grade only 18 percent met the standards, as measured by the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) Assessment.”

The costs are astounding:

“School District officials presented data Monday night showing that a $500,000 first-grade reading program does not serve its targeted student population, the lowest performers….
There are 14 Reading Recovery teachers in the West Fargo School District, providing one-on-one instruction to a total of 105 students for 30-minute increments each day during a time period of between 16 and 20 weeks.”

That’s $500,000 for 104 kids and a 57% success rate, or $4800 per kid. When you figure in the success rate, the number becomes $8421 per success. most which washes out in a few years.
A 50% success rate in Hortonville could be a fluke. A 50% success rate in Madison should raise an eyebrow. A 50% or so success rate in Fargo, is, a clear trend.
Complete Article:

District officials scrutinize reading program
Forrest Adams
West Fargo Pioneer – 03/13/2007
School District officials presented data Monday night showing that a $500,000 first-grade reading program does not serve its targeted student population, the lowest performers, as well as proponents of the program claim it does. They asked for the help of teachers involved in it, many of whom attended the School Board meeting, to help them find a better way to serve these students.
“What we’re really trying to do is talk about the rate at which every kid in this school system is growing,” District Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace said. “It seems to be the program, not the people. We’ve got teachers doing really good jobs.”
She said modifications to the early childhood literacy strategies in the School District do not mean teachers involved with the program in question, Reading Recovery, will lose their jobs, just that the District will possibly implement a more cost-effective solution to address the issue of reading instruction among the lower performin g students.
“We have teachers with wonderful training working in good schools; we have smart people who work really hard; I’d like for us to think more broadly about solutions,” she said. “Can we have a successful literacy program using the skills we have here? Yes we can. If we don’t address how kids read in earlier grades, some of the proficiency marks we’re shooting for in Goal 2011 will not be reached. This is for all of the students. There is room for growth in all students.”
There are 14 Reading Recovery teachers in the West Fargo School District, providing one-on-one instruction to a total of 105 students for 30-minute increments each day during a time period of between 16 and 20 weeks. Reading Recovery was developed in the 1970s by an educator in New Zealand and has been implemented in Australia, Canada, England, as well as the United States.
Advocates claim Reading Recovery is the best tool on the market because it helps the lowest performing c hildren learn to read and builds a foundation for them to attain the average level of their local class by the end of first grade through design and implementation of an individual program to meet each student’s needs.
However, West Fargo student data over time, as presented by Director of Knowledge Management Holly Budzinski Monday night, show that while this is happening in the short term, it’s not something the students sustain in the long run. The Administration has been scrutinizing the Reading Recovery program since two days after Budzinski arrived in West Fargo last January, and she has found that the majority of students served by Reading Recovery gradually lose their abilities to meet the class average by the time they reach sixth grade.
For example, one of Budzinski’s several studies into elementary school student achievement in West Fargo showed that while 57 percent of students served by Reading Recovery were able to meet the grade level as measure d by a Developmental Reading Assessment after the first grade, by the time they had reached sixth grade only 18 percent met the standards, as measured by the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) Assessment.
“The students are not able to sustain their gains,” Diesel Wallace said after the meeting. “Some [research] says [the program] works. Some says it doesn’t.”
Vickie Bouttiete, the District’s Reading Recovery Teacher Leader for the past eight years, says her data show the program works. She and Eastwood Elementary Reading Recovery teacher for the past eight years Peggy Sola will present it to Administration officials on Wednesday. There will also be a Reading Recovery presentation at the next School Board meeting in two weeks.
In an interview on Tuesday morning, Bouttiete said Reading Recovery is the best program available for intervention to help low-performing children learn to read. In her opinion, one-on-one instruction is vital.
“By getting to know each student one on one, we can figure out what they need. Reading Recovery is very complex. There are many different components in the program,” she said.
Bouttiete suggested the District enter into a research study comparing small-group reading instruction to one-on-one instruction.
“We know that first grade can’t be responsible for what happens in other grades. I think we need to sit down and come up with a reasonable plan. Eight years ago we had small-group teaching. It wasn’t working then,” she said. “When you deal with human beings, you can’t always think about members. There are other variables, like what support are they are receiving at home. You can’t control what happens outside of school. There’s a humanistic side that I think is very important and very significant.”
Since it was first implemented in the School District, costs for Reading Recovery have exceeded $2.5 million, and that’s not including materials and training, reported Bu dzinski. The School Board does not normally get involved in curriculum issues, unless, as President Duane Hanson said, there’s a price tag attached to them.

26 thoughts on “Reading Recovery: More chipping and shredding in Fargo!”

  1. If I understand the program, Reading Recovery is implemented, in theory, to support only the first grade kids in the lowest 20% of reading skills, teaching such kids in one-on-one tutoring sesssions for up to about 20 weeks. That is, RR only intervenes with such kids in the first grade and is not a continuing intervention. There is a 57% success rate with such kids, in that by some reading measures, at the end the intervention, the successful kids are reading at grade level.
    Again, if I understand the argument, the longitudinal study shows that by the 6th grade, only 18% of the kids who received RR support continue to read at grade level.
    My question is, how could any one-time intervention be expected to have any significant longitudinal effect? Does RR also intervene with a child’s family and/or environment to change the circumstances that caused the poor reading skills in the first place?
    There are many criticisms of RR research and implementation, including: 1) lowest 20% is measured at a particular school, not district-wide, and therefore, better reading kids are being brought into the program, thus inflating the success numbers, 2) related, the lowest 20% district-wide are not be served, 3) a 50+% success rate, for the money, is not very good.
    I actually consider it a remarkable claim to attribute to RR or any single “one-tme’ intervention that it was responsible for 18% of such supported kids to still be reading at grade level in 6th grade.
    It is quite bizarre to criticize RR for such a result, when I think this result borders on miraculous.
    I can think of any number of questions/studies that could be done to hone in on the causes of success of these 18%.
    1) Match these kids with a similar group based on their 1st grade characteristics, including reading their reading level but not receiving RR. What percentage of them are now reading at grade level in the 6th grade?
    2) Survey these 18% successful kids, families, etc to determine the other changes that occurred within the family and environment, and how RR intervention might have contributed to these other changes and what changes were independent of RR.

  2. Larry’s message raises a critical question: how is success measured. It is one thing to succeed by RR measures and “successfully” complete the program. It is another to actually be able to read at grade level. I would be less cynical, if we weren’t a family that experienced the miracle of RR only to spend long hours in speech and language therapy, tutoring, etc. to achieve close to grade level reading by 6th grade.
    Success is, indeed, determined by what we measure. For good or ill.

  3. I’ll just raise the obvious question here. In light of the poor success rate of this program, the hgh costs associated with program delivery, and a $7.2 million deficit, why do we continue to pour our scare resources into this program?
    I, of course, realize that this question has been asked before, but we are not using our resources well by continuing to fund this program.

  4. “[I]n light of the poor success rate” implies that we actually know that RR is not successful, and that there are better paradigms available. Is 57% a poor success rate? What are the characteristics of the kids for whom RR is not successful? GIven their characteristics, what would be a better approach?
    Given the characteristics of the 57% for whom RR is successful, is there a better program, in terms of success rate and cost, that we should implement? Is the measure of success reasonable? Should we have other measures to more fully evaluate kids so we can adjust our curriculum to make improvements?
    Given that RR is a one-time 20-week intervention in the 1st grade, what other interventions should/do we implement in the 1st grade and beyond that (would) allow the kids to maintain grade-level reading ability.
    Given that RR is designed for only the lower 20% of kids, what other interventions are we implementing for the, say 21-49 percentile kids?
    Given that it is estimated that about 10% of people (kids) suffer from some level of dyslexia, and RR is not designed to address this particular disability, what program is in place for such kids?
    There does seem to be important issues with regard to implementation, and Tim Potter’s analysis a couple of years ago shows the problems that plague the implementation here. The problems discussed in his study do seem to reflect common problems and criticisms with RR in other school districts.
    The problem with the RR program (and all other curriculum here and elsewhere) is there is never any real data and analysis to back up anyone’s proclamations. Tim Potter’s study became cause celebre because it was stamped “Not for Public Dissemination” and would have been deep-sixed if the results had not made it into the wild.
    In fact, this study has been successfully recaged, because the then BoE members and MMSD administration don’t want any meaningful data out into the public, and most BoE members neither know or care whether there is or should be data available to justify the success or failure of any curriculum as it applies to the differing groups of kids in our district.
    Meaningful disaggregated analysis of data would undoubtedly uncover areas where we can focus on improvement and likely show where MMSD is having success, but MTI, MMSD, and BoE politics simply will not have any of that.
    I have pushed the issue of meaningful analysis publicly and privately with MMSD administration and BoE over too many years, all to no avail. Ruth Robarts has repeatedly asked for such reports for Math over a longer period, also to no avail — her requests are simply ignored.
    Frankly, I don’t believe even most critics and proponents of one curriculum or another want such analysis. Those who are winning the current spitting match do not want their pet curricula subject to analysis either, and the current set of losers do not want to give more ammunition to their critics, even if it would show where they are having success, along with the failure.
    Honesty and politics do not mix.

  5. More obvious questions: How much in the aggregate has been spent on RR? How many students has it served? How many of those students are reading at grade level? Based on the research, how many of those students can be expected to keep up at grade level over time? Are there other programs that are proven to work better and can help more students for the same amount of money?
    And: isn’t it the job of the district to be asking these questions and correcting its approach if it’s headed down the wrong path?

  6. We should not be satisfied with a success rate under 90%, regardless of race or economic status of the students.
    The MMSD should start a charter school based on direct instruction curricula and compare the results to a school or schools using the current reading curriculum.
    Someday, I hope that the board works up the courage to do it.

  7. I agree with Ed that we shouldn’t accept anything less than 90% success, but I am doubtful this result can be accomplished with a single curriculum, pedagogy, etc.
    But is 57% for a single curriculum at the 1st grade for those at or below the 20% level good?
    I don’t expect we would have to create 25,000 such curricula, but I would be very surprised if less than a handful of such methodologies would be required.
    If the kids needs are allowed to dictate the resources to apply, that 90% criteria can be met.

  8. A couple of thoughts about RR in Madison. I know for a fact that they use it with kids older than 1st grade-which is not the intention so the district is essentially implementing it without integrity and fidelity. You can’t accurately measure the effects of the program if it is not implemented with integrity and fidelity.
    And as far as the percentage of students successful-it better be at least 80% of the kids in the program, because RR is designed to provide ADDITIONAL instruction, in addition to the core curriculum so that kids can get the intensive instruction they need to access the core curriculum. How many of our students are proficient and advanced in the CORE Curriculum? Is IT working? If RR is an additional program (added value), there should be alignment with what we are teaching in the core curriculum-if not, kids won’t generalize the information.
    I’m not a fan of RR and other programs that you start at point A, go to Z and when you finish, completion is the measurement of success, not actual achievement. I think you can get the same benefit with small group intensive reading instruction in other ways by teaching phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency and comprehension. Given that, I also know that there is a huge political agenda associated with RR in our district and others. Eliminating RR means eliminating a “person”.
    Have fun ripping my opinion apart, guys!

  9. Elizabeth
    I can’t rip you because for the most part you are right. I’d only disagree when you say if RR is eliminated, people have to go. Certainly, that would be an option. Another would be to keep them and retrain them to provide small group remediation to more kids with a program that has more independent long-term-scientific-peer reviewed proof that it works. If overall literacy is truly the goal, spending such huge sums on a few will deny a district financially to help the bottom 20-40 percent.
    You also mentioned alignment. You’ve aleady got it with Balanced Literacy. Balanced Literacy is the generic term for a whole-language approach to reading. The branded name is Literacy Collaborative. You can google Literacy Collaborative at Lesley College in Mass., or at Ohio State. Marie Clay, RR founder, together with Fountas and Pinnell (three of the most prolific WL proponents in the world), went to work at Ohio State to develop a curricula that would use the theories of RR and apply them to the regular classroom. Ostensibly in an effort to have the RR kids have alignment. The result was Literacy Collaborative (very costly, see, or the generic version balanced literacy (BL).
    Stop and think about it for a moment. Madison’s BL reading curricula is in essence a remedial reading program spread to the regular classroom. I know some will doubt me but you do that at great peril. Somewhere in my site archives I have a quote from Fountas or Pinnell that directly states the Literacy Collaborative (BL), was developed to do just that. In a word, Madison’s entire reading curricula is aligned with a remedial program, RR.
    I can’t let Larry off the hook though, only to say I will let others decide whether 57 percent and then 18 percent is miraculous.
    BTW, at 18% by grade 6, the cost per success balloons to around 24K.
    And to Ed, et. al.. We should try and get away from an effort to find a program that will succeed with a predetermined percentage of kids. Such benchmarks give opposing forces the opportunity to slap you around if exact numbers are not met. The goal is to find what works for most and then remediate cost effectively from there. If that is honestly done, direct and systematic phonics will be the priority day one in K-1.

  10. Just a brief note about grammar, for which I apologize in advance. The word “curriculum” is a singular noun rooted in Latin. The word “curricula” is the plural form of “curriculum”. This particular form of singular and plural is reasonably common in English (e.g., datum/data, medium/media, criterion/criteria, phenomenon/phenomena) and reflects the Latin declension of nouns of neuter gender.
    A variety of modern departures from strict Latin derivation are recognized in English. It is common for certain plural forms to be treated as if they were singular, e.g., data and media. Some plurals may be formed in the English style by simply adding “s”, e.g., “curriculums”. However, if one prefers to use the original Latin forms, the distinction between singular and plural is important to maintain.
    Similarly, it is important to understand the content and roots of Madison’s balanced literacy program before finding it guilty by association with similarly named academic theories and commercial reading programs. There is a difference between knowledge and random snippets of information gleaned with a computer search engine.

  11. Rather than be reminded of my six years of Latin, I would love to see our school board seriously review its reading curricula – what’s working where and why, what’s not and why, what’s the cost, etc.

  12. Neil,
    Thanks for the Latin lesson. More on that later.
    You are correct to say it is important to understand the content and roots of Madison’s BL program. To deny it is based on the theories of Vygotsky, Bruner and Clay, as you seem to be saying, is simply incorrect.
    I’m puzzled by what you meant when you said guilty by association. Are you saying the Literacy Collaborative is not BL, or are you saying the theories behind RR have nothing to do with BL.
    I enjoyed your third paragraph where you basically stated Madison’s BL program has nothing to do with the theories behind RR/LC/WL.
    If you google “literacy collaborative” and “balanced literacy” together, you will find Ohio State and Lesley College. Marie Clay went to Ohio State in 1986 to bring RR to the US. Clay, together with Fountas and Pinnell, et. al., worked together to use the theoretical framework behind RR to develop what is now LC and BL. These facts are not “random snippets.”
    As to the Latin lesson I previously thanked you for. Your use of the word “similarly” in the third paragraph indicates a logical linkage between the first two paragraphs and the third. Unless someone can find a logical linkage, and point it out to me, I’m afraid I will have to brand your use of the word “similarly”, and the points you made subsequently, a non-sequitur.

  13. The structure of Reading Recovery makes it a relatively high cost program and with any program there will always be issues around fidelity of local implementation that need to be considered. Any intervention should be assessed based on student needs, district fiscal capacity, and implementation/training capacity. There is also the question, which Larry raised, of how much you should rely on any single intervention.
    Having read the preceding comments, I just want to make two points.
    First, the Federal Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) just reported on beginning reading programs and gave Reading Recovery high evidence marks for alphabetics and general reading achievement, with moderate evidence marks for comprehension and fluency. WWC has thorough review standards and FedEd cannot be characterized as a hothouse of “whole language” activism. This is a pretty strong report and is available at
    Second, Reading Recovery has a substantial phonemic skills component. There are other components as well, which is why critics sometimes caricature it as “whole language” in nature.

  14. Thanks for the post Tim. I think you hit the nail on the head with the point “there will always be issues around fidelity of local implementation.” I’ve been watching the Reading Recovery debate in MMSD for years and still don’t have much of an opinion about it. It seems like the program works really well in some schools and really poorly in others. I’ve seen the internal 2004 report on Reading Recovery, which apparently was never given to the Board, which basically concludes that the program isn’t working all that well. I’ve also been at numerous Board meetings over the years when Reading Recovery was on the chopping block and heard tons of testimony from teachers, parents and students who swear that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread! My favorite elementary principal loves Reading Recovery and thinks it works well. But I’ve also heard of other principals who think it doesn’t work at all. And that perhaps some use their Reading Recovery positions as a place to stash a weaker teacher.
    It would be really nice to get an objective evaluation of Reading Recovery in MMSD and target its use to the schools that support it and are successful in implementing it and maybe try some other type of intervention in the schools where it doesn’t seem to be working for whatever reason. At least that is what would make sense to me! It’s well documented that there is no “one size fits all” strategy for teaching reading and continuing the “all or nothing” debate over Reading Recovery is getting us nowhere!

  15. When I saw the WWC analysis of RR I smelled a rat. After poking around a bit, sure enough.
    1) The WWC reviewed 78 studies. 4 met the WWC standards and one met with reservations.
    2) Three of the studies were conducted by Reading Recovery affiliated researchers. At least two of these studies contained serious methodological flaws. To wit:
    a) Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., DeFord, D. E., Bryk, A. S., & Seltzer, M. (1994). Comparing instructional models for the literacy education of high-risk first graders. Reading Research Quarterly, 29(1), 9-38.
    b) Pinnell, G. S., Lyons, C. A., & DeFord, D. E. (1988). Reading Recovery: Early intervention for at-risk first graders. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service
    c) Schwartz, R. M. (2005). Literacy learning of at-risk first-grade students in the Reading Recovery early intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 257–267.
    Gay Sue Pinnell, Diane Deford, and Carol A. Lyons are directors of the National Reading Recovery Center at Ohio State in the U.S. Bob Schwartz is a Reading Recovery Trainer from Oakland University.
    3) One of the independent studies showed no effects using the Reading Recovery intervention. And, the final study, Iversen, S., & Tunmer, W. (1993). Phonological Processing Skills and the Reading Recovery Program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 112-126, showed that Reading Recovery was 37% more successful when a systematic explicit phonics portion was added.
    I lifted a good share of the above “snippets” from:
    3 of 5 of the approved studies were conducted by RR salespersons. 2 of 5 found big problems.
    The sad thing about this, is that district administrators and curriculum directors across the country will use this report to justify and expand new and existing RR programs. Disengaged BOE members, unwilling or not able to think independently, will nod their collective heads and feel good.

  16. Mr. Schneider,
    You have the temerity to level an accusation: “Madison’s BL reading curricula is in essence a remedial reading program spread to the regular classroom. I know some will doubt me but you do that at great peril…In a word, Madison’s entire reading curricula is aligned with a remedial program, RR.” But you offer no evidence of any knowledge about the actual content or origin of MMSD’s balanced literacy curriculum. You seem to rely solely on its name to link it to academic theories and a specific “branded” reading program.
    At best, your accusation is based on a hunch. But there is a fundamental difference between a hunch and knowledge, no matter how vigorously the former is asserted. With all due respect, I will run the risk of doubting your accusation against Madison’s balanced literacy curriculum.
    P.S. My use of the word “similarly” referred to the importance of understanding the content and roots of the things we purport to know, including both an aspect of the English language and MMSD’s reading curriculum.

  17. I’m tired of the “reading wars.” Ater twenty years of this, I find them totally unproductive. What Tim Schell says above is correct.
    RR is one approach to “remedial reading” for students who have fallen behind in reading skills in the first grade. It is not a total literacy program. RR advocates freely admit the approach does not work for all children. That is why other approaches are needed and should be tried. Turning down federal money for reading support is stupid, especially where there is an opportunity to learn new ways to remediate poor readers in the early grades. Insisting that one way or the other is the only way is stupid. Costs and efficiencies in all programs must be considered.

  18. The citation of conclusions from such blog sources d-edreckoning (or any blog sources for that matter) as evidence of any truth is wrong beyond pale.
    Blogs are not primary sources of information — they’re opinions of advocates for one idea or another.
    And, the world of educational research, at least in the area involving the math or reading wars for example, the primary sources themselves are so far removed from the basic principles of scientific inquiry I learned and did, that such research should only be cited as examples of incompetent research and utter disregard for science.
    Years ago, when we needed to impress upon ourselves the need for creating quality experimental designs that would mitigate the flaws in research, we used to study the experiments conducted at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University run by J. B. Rhine. Such experiments, and the peer view and replications which followed, were (and probably still are) a great source for understanding bias (experimenter and otherwise), and its sometimes subtle influence on seemingly “objective” experiments.
    Unfortunately, in educational research, there is nothing subtle about the flaws.
    The only rational approach to take, and this is my unwavering position, is to view all educational research from primary sources with complete skepticism, regardless of whether (actually especially if) the results seem to support my own biases; and to completely disregard all blog opinions as a source of truth, except for their cites to original research. In the latter case, what I find, though, is blog opinion makers cite other blogs to support their positions — just like Reed.
    Any other approach except strong skepticism and you’ve entered into The Fool’s Paradise.
    “The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things. ” – Richard P. Feynman

  19. Larry,
    The WWC report is largely based on research from 3 people who have a vested interest in RR. I don’t consider that to be a blog opinion.

  20. Maybe, it’s the teaching in grades 2-6 that is not supporting these “at risk” students. Students don’t stop being “at risk” the minute they leave Reading Recovery instruction. Many will continue to need appropriate instruction, support and intervention beyond first grade. I would be more concerned about what isn’t happening for your students who have exited the program successfully and then lose ground continually during 2nd-6th grade. You should be examining the effectiveness of those programs, instructors and instructional groupings.

  21. Toni,
    Subsequent articles from Fargo explained how the RR program was going to be eliminated and a comprehensive K-3 system was going to be put in its place using the same staff. Using this approach will remediate more children with the same cost.
    You are correct when you say many will continue to need support and intervention after RR. But there is the rub. If you went back to when RR was being sold to your district, one of if not the biggest selling points was that while RR was expensive, it will actually save the district money from lower LD/special ed costs down the road. This promise from RR salespeople is never ever realized. In one article, a RR spokesperson even said, “if the student does not have success in RR, they are referred to special ed”. And we wonder why special ed costs go through the roof? At a fifty percent success rate, RR has in essence become a special ed generator.
    I also agree that the effectiveness of programs in 2-6 should be looked at, and I have. What the constructivists fail to realize is that children, especially those “at risk” (I hate that phrase), need structure and order. With RR they are pulled from class and treated to attack strategies like guessing, looking for picture clues, context clues, “what sounds right”, etc. Then, it’s back to the child-centered-balanced-literacy classroom where they get a heavy dose of small group learning with their peers, independent reading, independent writing, etc. The child gets precious few moments of actual direct instruction of the rules.
    Sadly, the concept of a well-schooled professional adult directly imparting knowledge and fact to the next generation is currently unfashionable. Hence, the reading wars.

  22. I question whether most opposers and persons having negative opinions of RR have ever experienced a lesson or followed a teacher/student through the program. I have found that there is a lot of misinformation put out there by phonics gooroos that have a personal agenda. You have to be very cautious about what you read.
    As a parent, it makes me sick to my stomach that I have to send my child to a school that teaches reading by di-secting words and learning phonic rules. He is not learning to self-monitor his reading or learning the most effective way to solve what he doesn’t know. He is getting lost in the rules which takes too long and loses comprehension. I can see many ways in which teachers are creating reading problems in classrooms.
    When comparing stats on program efficiency you have to be also careful that you are comparing apple to apples. Eighty percent of students in first grade learn to read no matter what you use. The other 20% struggle to read. West Fargo has succeeded to teach 57% of that bottom 20%, hardest to teach, to read. That is over 90% of their first graders reading and reading remarkably well! Of the students RR serves, 10% are typically special ed. If a child has a learning disability, it is discovered early instead of later which benefits the student greatly. Schools with RR have run into the problem where students don’t qualify for help because they aren’t struggling enough. I once had a conversation with a special ed teacher that told me RR methods were highly valuable to her special ed students. More valuable than any of her college courses. People forget that money isn’t being spent on just 20% of the first graders, it is being spent on valuable teacher training!
    I don’t live or teach in West Fargo but I am very familiar with the district. WF wants to say that it isn’t working because only 18% of those served are better off in sixth grade. How narrow minded. What are the numbers going to be like when NO ONE gets RR? Reading is a skill that bleeds into all academic areas. They really needed to twist the numbers. Who would get rid of a program that has help raise their reading rate to over 90%!
    Bottom line-test scores…to funding. New superintendent in WF wants to raise test scores in other areas. Hired her best friend who waltzed in and is eliminating a program which, I am sure, she has no expertise. Back to spending money on cookie cutter instruction for WF.

  23. RR teacher hits the nail on the head, but not what he/she probably expected.
    Having experienced a lesson and followed a teacher/student through the program is precisely not science — it is only antecdotal evidence. RR teachers, especially those committed to it, are not going to be unbiased regarding the success of RR.
    That is one of the points I made far back in this thread when I referred to J. B. Rhine and the Parapsychology Lab at Duke. Rhine, himself, was a scientist and did, or tried to do high quality experiments to identify claims of the paranormal. Good research methods allowed replication of the experiments and determination that unintentional experimenter biases caused positive results.
    In any case, the idea behind whether RR works, is not that kids who come into the program make progress. Let’s all agree that that is true. That is not the point of science. Did kids in RR make progress because of RR or because such kids in the normal course of first grade make progress, RR not really adding substantially to the progress?
    Or RR kids made progress, but other programs do a better job.
    Criticisms of RR research are that kids on the RR program are not really at the bottom 20%. So how much real success is there when the some of the kids in the program already outperform the target population? (This is because, the bottom 20% is measured in a given school, rather than on some more global scaling, and because RR cannot handle all kids below 20%, it is not supporting all such kids — an obvious tautology).
    The other criticism, which is as damning as I could imagine from a scientific perspective, is that the researchers are the RR teachers. This approach is no more valid than the typical advertizing campaign for the newest diet fad — the personal endorsement.
    There is a method to science (it’s called the Scientific Method). Only to the extent that RR (or any othe program) conforms to this method, it is at least valid on the surface.
    Recently, the “What Works Clearinghouse” gave approval to RR. This is very positive, given how difficult it is to get such approval.
    However, regardless of this scientific outcome, success or failure of RR depends on how well RR works in practice in the school/district. Implementation of any program, no matter how well the scientific experiment shows it works, is otherwise no guarantee.
    Culture of the schools, the parents, the teachers, the kids are determinative. If there is a significant variation between these “demographics” and the demographics within the experimental groups that were the subject of the scientific experiments, all bets are off.
    If RR is not implemented well and according to the science, it doesn’t matter what the scientific literature says!
    The research on RR here in Madison showed that kids placed in the RR in the second round, fared worse than a control group of similar kids. That is, RR positively harmed kids’ reading ability after they’d experienced learning to read using some standard first grade approach (and not RR).
    The key is this. Just because some can personally endorse, from experience, that RR is working doesn’t mean that it is a good program or that it works better than other approaches or that it is working well here.

  24. Most reviews of reading research identify Success for All and Direct Instruction as the most effective reading programs.

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