19 thoughts on “A Lengthy Reading Recovery Discussion”

  1. I’ll probably get around to the rest of this, but a link on the first page took me an earlier post that takes Jonathon Kozol to task for holding that economic integration improves the performance of minority and poverty students. The author then uses data from his own district to “show” that Kozol is “wrong.”
    Unfortunately his own data show that the minority and poverty students in his district have scores (in reading and math) between 11% and 18% higher than the state averages for those categories. I think he proved Kozol’s point, but somehow he doesn’t think so. This is called denial, dishonesty or stupidity. I vote for all three.
    Yes, the performance measures are still below state averages, but Kozol never makes a specific claim about this. Kozol says that breaking down barriers of attendance between high and low poverty districts is among the reforms he would pursue if he had the power and that it has a demonstrable effect of poor and minority achievement (De Ed Reckoning “proves” this)So it is also a straw man attack.
    I don’t know if I can continue reading anything by De Ed Reckoning. This person should be ashamed.
    I’m willing to read thoughtful and honest pieces that challenge my beliefs, but the heated rhetoric, misused statistics and dishonesty of so many on the Right makes me wonder why I should bother wading through so much garbage to find the good the work. There have been two recent posts with references to Bonnie Grossen’s work (including this one). As I tried to point out in the comments to the earlier post, she has no credibility; she bends research findings and misrepresents them to support her position. Even the researchers whose works she cites favorably (good researchers in my opinion) distance themselves from her because she turns everything into an unsupported attack on any reading program that has elements of whole language. She also has no shame.

  2. I haven’t been able to go back to De Ed Reckoning, but I thought some of you might appreciate a thoughtful over view of Direct Instruction research (including a kinder take on Grossen’s). This link will take you to the editor’s introduction of an issue of the _Journal of Education of Student’s Placed at Risk_. The whole issue is worth looking at.
    If you look through this please note a few things. First, how much most of the researchers say they don’t know! That’s a sign of a good researcher. Second note that most point to areas (comprehension) where DI hasn’t been great. Lastly, note that the success numbers are much like the MMSD Reading Recover success numbers.
    I point to the last because there seems to be this impression that teaching all children to read at grade level is easy and that we know how to do it, but refuse. We know some things, but the problem is intractable. So we keep working, keep doing the things that help some students and keep looking for ways to help others (I’ll admit that MMSD could do better on this last).
    There is no magic bullet. It isn’t politics or stubbornness that keeps Reading Recovery in MMSD, it is the fact that by most measures it has worked well. It isn’t politics or stubbornness (by the BOE or administration) that is keeping them from teaching all children to read at grade level, it is ignorance. They, like all the best systems and all the best researchers honestly don’t know how to teach some children in a timely and efficient manner. The ignorance is not unique to MMSD, it is universal. Note, even in her dishonesty Bonnie Grossen says that DI did not “work” for some students; she didn’t know what to do for these students.

  3. TJM,
    This kind of language is offensive: “This is called denial, dishonesty or stupidity.” Please be polite.

  4. Ed
    Did you read the De Ed Reckoning piece? Did you see the language and distortions he posted about Kozol? (I note that you don’t include any of that in your call for politeness, maybe you should also upbraid Jim for posting the link) My language is tame by comparison and supported by his own figures. People like this who muddy the waters of public discourse with lies and distortions, especially in education, earn the contempt I have for them. Finding and facing the truth is always difficult and people like De Ed Reckoning make it that much harder. I clicked the links with an open mind and what I found there sickened and angered me. That is what I expressed and if the way I expressed it helps call attention to the distortions, then all the better.
    The phrase you object to was inspired primarily by his exercise in reaching conclusions contrary to the data he offered and his rabid lambasting of Kozol, but it applies to the rest of the posts I read also. Many will skim his postings and conclude that Reading Recovery is an utter failure and that DI can solve any problem. Honest evaluations recognize that both programs have strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.
    This is the truth that De Ed Reckoning and his ilk refuse to recognize (denial) or willfully ignore (dishonesty) or do not understand (stupidity).
    Unless you can offer a better description (I’ll be waiting), I’m standing by “denial, dishonesty or stupidity.”

  5. Engelmann’s response to criticisms, similar to those made in the JESPAR article, made by whole-language’s Allington can be found here. Not a direct response, but close enough considering the level of the “research-based” criticism.
    There is, of course, more research on DI than any other instructional program. Research that includes many middle-class kids (in Follow Through) whose scores increased as much as the special-ed kids. Of course, DI is very effective in reducing kids in the special-ed category. Reading Recovery, in conrast, is not.(Their own advocates conced that RR does not boost student achievement, as Grossen points out — oops.)
    Lastly, note that the success numbers are much like the MMSD Reading Recover success numbers.
    DI has typical effect sizes close to and above a standard deviation, better than any other program. RR has no effect size in real measures, unlike RR’s own contrived measures, to speak of.
    The ignorance is not unique to MMSD, it is universal. Note, even in her dishonesty Bonnie Grossen says that DI did not “work” for some students
    Engelmann has stated, and has evidence to back up, that DI works with students down to about the 10th percentile. RR makes no claims, as Grossen shows, for children below the 20th percentile. They are not suitable RR candidates. But, then again who is?

  6. Tom,
    Okay, the First Amendment protects free speech — offensive and otherwise — so you may continue to be as rude and testy as you want.
    More to the point, the superintendent’s statements on Reading Recovery trump any debate about Reading Recovery in the MMSD. Isthmus reported, “[Rainwater] says the study results {from the MMSD’s own analysis of RR} were what he expected, and the program will continue: “Would we walk away from a program that is enabling 50% of our children who are not successful in reading to be successful? No, we wouldn’t. That would be crazy.”
    Reading Recovery will be the primary remedial reading program for MMSD first graders as long as Rainwater serves as superintendent.
    When people say the MMSD has low expections for academic success, I cite Rainwater’s statement as exhibit #1. To my way of thinking, high expectaions would seek a success rate a lot nearer to 100%.
    By the way, the MMSD uses Read 180, a computerized program using scripts and other methods of Direct Instruction, for middle and high school students who can’t read. What reading program, Tom, would you propose that the MMSD use to teach reading to high schoolers who can’t read?

  7. To TJM and other reading recovery supporters. Please answer the questions after my little story.
    Three boys are drowning in a lake. A powerful swimmer walks by and sees their predicament. Many others are on the shore but he is the only one skilled and trained to save them. He swims out, saves one, and then walks away leaving the others to drown knowing full well he could have saved the other two.
    He has committed no legal crime. But knowing what he could have done, does he deserve the praise of the community? Does he deserve a cash reward?
    If you answer yes to either of these two questions, it is understandable why you would support reading recovery.
    I’m interested to hear responses from RR supporters.
    Reed Schneider

  8. Responding to Kderosa (and Ed Blume here and there)
    First, Allington does not consider himself to be in the “whole language” camp but favors a balanced approach (I do too). You may disagree, but from what I’ve read I think he is correct about his own views.
    I’m not sure what response from Englemann you are referencing, but I’d be glad to look at it (with an open mind).
    By “reducing kids in the special ed category,” do you mean limiting referrals or achieving success with students who are already in special ed? Good data on limiting referrals would seem hard to get. Laws and practices have changed greatly over time and continue to vary widely, that makes the data hard to interpret. Again, I’d like to see the study. As far as instructing students in DI, you are correct that Reading Recovery is not designed for this and that Direct Instruction has produced good results with special ed students. I’m not anti-direct instruction, it has its places and special ed seems to clearly be one of them. It probably belongs in the tool kit for targeted remedial students too (in the same way I think that Reading Recovery belongs in that tool kit).
    A little digression. I said I wasn’t anti-DI, but I do have a problem with it being the norm for all instruction because of the scripting. And unless I misread the research its seems the closer the scripts are followed the better the results. I know scripting is only part of DI and it varies greatly, but it does seem to be an essential part. The scripting may produce good results across a range of students, but so do other methods of instruction that give teacher’s more autonomy. If teaching reading was the only thing we expected from teachers, than maybe deskilled scripted instruction would be fine. But teachers do much more and scripted instruction tends not attract the teachers who are capable of doing many of the other things we expect; it repels some of them. I’ve never had to work in phone sales, but I have done political phone banking. Just from this little experience I can tell how unappealing scripted work is. A full DI program seems to me to have the potential to be a case of losing the forest for the trees. This is a gut thing with me, not research, maybe not rational. I won’t defend it too much, but I wanted to be honest about where I stood and why.
    On to success statistics (in shorthand/note form with some comments, all from the issue of JESFR – it was handy):
    Mac Iver and Kemper’s Baltimore study: Kindergarten average Peabody test at the 19th percentile, Third grade skills at the 49th percentile (similar gains for control group!). Also 12 of 17 schools at or above 65th percentile! “DI appears to be a viable option for raising student reading achievement, even if this study has not yet yielded evidence that DI performs significantly better than other reading curricula.”
    RITE Study (City Springs): SAT9 Reading score distribution 12% below 25th percentile, 66 above 50th. Comparison schools: 32% below 25th, 39% above 50th.
    Ligas (Broward County): This study states that it should not be considered a direct study of DI. However it did find that that in general there were some gains in the DI schools, but also disturbing declines in the later years. The students in the DI schools continued to be well below both the general control group and the control group weighted for demographics.
    Carlson and Francis (RITE study, Houston): This targets “at risk students.” SAT9 Reading score distribution 12% below 25th percentile, 66 above 50th. Comparison schools: 32% below 25th, 39% above 50th. I want to pull a good stat from this. 3d grade word reading from the DI schools and the non DI. DI below 25% = 16%; non DI = 34%. This is a good result, obviously better than the control. It deserves praise, but still 16% are in the bottom nationally and that can’t be good; these children cannot be good readers. Whatever went on in the control schools failed for 34%, the DI approach failed for 16%. No magic bullets, but points for DI. Same students, same measure but above the 50th percentile: DI 61%, non DI 38%. Once again points for DI. I wish the data went deeper and told us about the 75th percentile. One more stat from this study, 18% of the students in the DI schools failed the Texas 3d grade achievement tests. No magic bullets.
    Kderosa made appoint of citing DI advocates as saying that it works down to the 20th or 10th percentiles, but that is very different from saying it works for all students. Every study of DI (and RR and everything else) includes students who the program did not work for. That’s what I said and that’s what I meant. There is also a reference to RR not working with students in the bottom 20%, I think the MMSD data (below) demonstrates that that is not entirely true.
    (One more study then on to MMSD data)
    Rosenshine (on low income, kind of a lit review with particular attention to the limits of the data in the other articles in this issue.): Raises serious concerns about drop off over years, meaning good gains early, but then falling toward control group in subsequent years. She also points out that the data on comprehension isn’t good and what there is indicates some lack in DI (as practiced most places). I point to this because whole language advocates will champion test results that focus on what whole language does well and DI advocates will champion studies that focus on what DI does well. That’s good, as long as people don’t get the idea that reading (or education) is only about one thing. Lastly she clarifies that above the 50th percentile includes many students who are still not at grade level.
    Some MMSD numbers (2005)
    3d grade reading (all students): Advanced and Proficient = 82.7%; Minimal = 9.3%.
    4th Grade WSAS/WAA (reading), economically disadvantaged: Advanced and Proficient = 62%; Minimal = 12%.
    This is rough stuff because the test and category comparison’s might not be clean and I couldn’t find disaggregated data on the 3d grade reading, but these look like similar numbers to the DI success’s in “at risk” and high poverty schools. If anyone wants to tell me why they might not be, I’m open to learning.
    Reading Recovery in Madison
    Here I’ll start by saying I’m just getting up to speed. My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) is that RR is employed with only those students who have fallen well behind (bottom 20%) and have not (yet) been referred for special education. So by definition this group is among the riskiest of the at risk. So comparisons to general at risk populations are pretty limited. I don’t have DI data handy that would compare well with the RR students in MMSD (I’m not going to look either, but I’d like to see it and think this discussion would benefit from it). So with the caveat that this is even rougher than the above, here’s what we know about the success of RR in MMSD: 64% of MMSD discontinued RR students were “proficient or advanced” on 3d grade reading tests and the range for discontinued students across all grades was 56% to 79%. The range for students who didn’t complete the program was 43% to 64%. I’m with Art Rainwater here (Ed), these numbers are good. And with all the caveats about selection, controls and tests, they are in the same ballpark as the DI success numbers.
    If anyone can point to a program that good studies show will do better with the population that is served by RR in MMSD (or do as well cheaper), I’ll join you in advocating for it. I’m just tired of the polemics.
    Earlier I said that DI should be part of the toolkit, so in part that answers Ed’s question about Read 180, but beyond that I believe in continuing to do what works (and I put RR in that category) and trying other things for those who the current approach isn’t working (expanding DI may be part of this).
    In a much earlier comment I said that the political battle lines on reading instruction are clearer than the research on what works and for whom. I regret this. I have no horse in this race except that I want children to learn to read.
    Ed asked about expectations and questioned Art Rainwater being happy with 50%+ success rate. I think Art Rainwater understands that “high expectations” can run up against realities and those realities include the fact that no reading program I’ve heard of has a success rate of 100% of students reading at or above grade level. No magic bullets.
    In closing, Ed I’m sorry I offended you but till you explain why “denial, dishonesty or stupidity” was not an apt characterization I will find your complaint hollow. I’m pretty thick skinned, but this is the second time you have taken me to task for my choice of words and both times I asked you to address the substance that inspired my words and neither time have you done that.
    Other than being prone to typos, I tend to choose my words carefully and will continue to defend them.

  9. Tom,
    The whole issue in the MMSD is moot. Rainwater will do nothing more than RR in first grade. So why waste our time debating the equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin in the Madison school district?
    I’d rather spend my time on something that might be accomplished, like getting the board to appoint an advisory committee on strings.
    I hope that you’ll write to the board in support of an advisory committee.

  10. On one hand I hear there is not enough money for education, yet from the same people I hear nothing but a rigid myopic adherence to a discredited, expensive, one-on-one remedial program. Sports, math, music, science and all the other courses since the beginning of time have been well taught in groups. Yet, RR is so mysterious and powerful that it can ONLY be administered in a one-to-one setting? There are plenty of remedial programs that do as good or better than RR with groups of three or more.
    Clever marketing, money-is-no-object administrators and the eagerness for RR teachers to have a few pupils per day have given us this program.
    Reed Schneider

  11. I’m in complete agreement with Tom Mertz characterization of the d-edreckoning site and blogger — actually, I thought him too kind! It really is too hard to find real science in educational research to waste ones time reading utter garbage.
    I don’t have the time at the present to dig out the MMSD Potter study of RR, but remember that kids who entered the program during the second round of instruction score statistically significantly below the control group, though statistically signficantly above the control group in the first round of instruction.
    However, at MMSD, it is not the lowest 20% that get RR, but the lowest 20% in the school offering RR. So the stats on RR at MMSD are biased due to sample bias.
    And it seems to me that the question of practical significance of the effectiveness of RR (or any methodology) instead of the statistical significance needs to be addressed. Mere statistical significance, where it exists, is of no practical importance.
    Another point. Between 5% and 10% of the population suffers from dyslexia. Any reading methodology which targets the bottom 20% is likely to be attempting to engage children with this affliction. Unless a methodology is geared for this special reading disability, such kids will not be served.
    I cannot find the reference (which is on my disk somewhere), but there is a study using DI on adult dyslexics which shows high practical success in improving the reading of the treatment group. However, the treatment was quite intense — immersion — such that the conclusion of the researchers was that DI would work, but such treatment could not scale to be universally implemented.

  12. Balanced Literacy: what is the specific instructional program and what evidence do you have that it is effective with the lower half of the curve.
    Engelmann’s reponse: http://www.adihome.org/phpshop/pdf/articles/DIN_02_02_07.pdf
    By “reducing kids in the special ed category,” do you mean limiting referrals or achieving success with students who are already in special ed? Both. In a proper implementation only the mentally retadrded will be in special ed.
    DI only for special ed kids: see http://www.zigsite.com/PDFs/CSSP_Acceptance.pdf figure 5, DI is equally effective for students with IQS between 70 and 130
    DI and scripting: see http://www.kitchentablemath.net/twiki/bin/view/Kitchen/WhyScriptingInDI
    The scripting is due to the distributed practice and mastery learning. More importantly, DI was developed because other methods were not and continue not be effective with lower performers.
    Every study of DI (and RR and everything else) includes students who the program did not work for: Remember the DI studies are mostly in low SES areas where the mobility rates are 25%+ and not all implementations are as good as others. On average a school performing in the 20th percentile will be raised to at least the 50th percentile once the implementation has stabilized after a few years. No other program comes close to this effect size.
    My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) is that RR is employed with only those students who have fallen well behind (bottom 20%) and have not (yet) been referred for special education: no, RR does not take students below the 20th percentile.
    success of RR in MMSD: 64% of MMSD discontinued RR students were “proficient or advanced” on 3d grade reading tests and the range for discontinued students across all grades was 56% to 79%. The range for students who didn’t complete the program was 43% to 64%: These stats are contradicted by this study linked here: http://www.nrrf.org/rrp_failure_11-4-04.htm
    It really is too hard to find real science in educational research to waste ones time reading utter garbage: Why don’t you actually criticise the research cited instead of mresorting to vague innuendo.
    So the stats on RR at MMSD are biased due to sample bias: That’s right, but the bias is to RR’s favor since RR doesn’t take the absolute lowest 20%.
    Another point. Between 5% and 10% of the population suffers from dyslexia: usually caused by improper reading instruction.
    Unless a methodology is geared for this special reading disability, such kids will not be served: there are only two traetments needed: one for students who were never taught to read, the standard DI program whihc is an hour a day and one for students which were mistaught how to read and have to be remediated, which is much more difficult, especially if they are adults

  13. Let’s not allow another fact to get lost in the Reading Recovery discussion: It DOES work wonders for some kids, like any other reading program the MMSD might adopt. Every kid deserves to have a reading instructor who can choose from a myriad of program options individualized for that kid. There are reading resource teachers in our district who adore Reading Recovery. There are those who dislike it. When we get into the proverbial “loudest voice wins” scenario, somewhere, some kid is losing out on a program that works for them- so I advocate keeping Reading Recovery AND bringing in as many other reading programs as possible to ensure that all kids get the program that works for them.

  14. To David:
    The problem with having a full blown RR program is that its cost usually precludes funding for other programs that work better and can serve more kids at a time.
    You also state that it works wonders for some kids. This would be true if bringing 50% of the remediated kids up to the AVERAGE of their class at a cost of $8,000 per successful student is the definition of “working wonders.”
    Furthermore, every kid does NOT “deserve a reading instructor who can chose from a myriad of program options.” Rather, every kid deserves a scientifically proven curriculae (independently peer reviewed) approved by a qualified and informed BOE.
    Btw, since nobody wants to answer the questions in my swimmer analogy above, please answer this one.
    Is it moral to teach one child at a time when you are qualified to handle 2-3 at a time?
    Reed Schneider

  15. Reed: I say it works wonders for some kids because I have seen a stack of testimonials from parents at our elementary school. You can disagree with that all you want with statistics and cost analyses. There is no one-size-fits-all program when it comes to reading.

  16. I will give a small point based on a previous school district.
    When my eldest went to Anchorage ISD he took a pre-school exam that was not academic but based on how you retain information, or how you learn. Once his typing was acquired he was placed in a 1/2 class where the teacher used a method that better accomodated his style of learning. There were 3 different modes of learning and each class ended up being a neat mix of high and low skilled students. Some students did not show a “strenghth” in a particular mode and were randomly placed in the classes. I do not know the name of this system but it made sense to me.

  17. I don’t know enough about Reading Recovery to have formed an opinion about it one way or the other, but I find the debate very interesting because of the very strong feelings both pro and con. In tight budget times, the biggest concern I have is “are we getting the biggest bang for the buck” with the money that is spent on this program. Every time Reading Recovery has been even mentioned as a possible budget cut, hordes of people show up at Board meetings to speak in support of the program, so obviously it is working for some students. On the other hand, the district’s own assessment of results was not as positive as they would have liked and I have heard that there are principals who think the program is not very effective. I’ve even heard anecdotally that some principals use the Reading Recovery positions as a place to stash their weakest teachers to get them out of classrooms.
    So, this program is like all the other curriculum. If principals and teachers believe in it and support it, it probably works well. If it is taught by skilled teachers, it probably works well. If it isn’t supported in a particular school, the results probably reflect that too.
    Rather than throw out the whole program if it is working well in particular schools or with particular students, why not target Reading Recovery resources to where it’s working and try something else where it’s not? I happened to talk to a principal and a Reading Recovery teacher today who are very supportive of the program. According to the principal, 90% of the students who went through Reading Recovery at her school scored proficient or advanced on the 3rd grade reading test. That’s a much better outcome than the district as a whole, so obviously there are other schools where it isn’t working so well. I would support reviewing the effectiveness of the program on a school-by-school basis and either figuring out how to share the best practices that make Reading Recovery effective or allow some option to experiment with other curriculum where it doesn’t seem to be as effective. At any rate, the money should be spent on programming that works!

  18. Why do you people keep discussing Reading Recovery? Art Rainwater likes it; Carol Carstensen likes it. Nothing will change. End of discussion.

  19. To Ed, as to why I keep talking about RR. Two reasons. I heard once that illiteracy is a form of slavery. Since slavery is evil, anything that promotes illiteracy or even diminished literacy is evil by definition. ie., if A=B and B=C then A=C. (A bit complex for the constructivists out there to grasp perhaps. For sake of discussion, you can accept this A=B=C logical truth for now and work collaboratively with your peers for a few days to construct your own meaning later) Since I am not in the military, law enforcement, or clergy, it is the only way I can help fight evil. Hows that.
    The second reason I fight RR is purely personal. For over 7 years I have been fighting it both on and off the local BOE. Facts, research, costs, etc., when presented meant nothing. Because of that, it is my hobby now…..sport if you will.
    I see from the RR Council of North America’s website that RR implementation is down 70,000 students since 2001. Clearly, it is on a downward spiral as more and more districts come to realize the folly of it all. My second reason, therefore, is that I want to be there when the whole thing falls apart….to dance on its grave….so to speak.
    A previous commenter also stated that a principal told him, “90% of the students who went through Reading Recovery at her school scored proficient or advanced on the 3rd grade reading test.” I’d call her out on it. Ask to see the state data for those kids (I realize privacy laws won’t allow you to see the actual names) Then ask to see how they’re doing in 4th grade. I don’t believe her for a second.
    Reed Schneider

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