The internal audit of Reading First by the federal Education Department was released just days after another report, from the independent Center on Education Policy (CEP), suggested the program is having a significant impact on student achievement.

The report, which surveyed state and local grant recipients, finds that Reading First has led to many changes in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In addition, a significant majority of participating states and districts credit Reading First for student achievement gains, according to the survey.

Of the school districts that reported increased reading achievement, virtually all districts with Reading First subgrants reported that Reading First’s instructional program was an “important” or “very important” cause for gains (97 percent), and that Reading First’s assessment system was an “important” or “very important” cause (92 percent).

Of the 35 states reporting achievement gains in the survey, 19 reported that Reading First instructional programs were an important or very important cause for improvement, while 16 said that Reading First assessments were an important or very important cause. Many other state officials reported they did not yet know the impact of Reading First on achievement; 11 were unsure about the effects of the instructional programs, and 13 were unsure of the effects of the assessment system.

“Reading First is causing changes in instruction and assessment, because the program has strict requirements backed up by substantial funding,” said Jack Jennings, president of CEP.

Ninety percent of states (45) reported that they had sufficient funds for implementing Reading First instructional programs, while 43 states said they had sufficient funds for conducting Reading First evaluations. In addition, unlike other federal education programs, Reading First is a new funding stream. Therefore, funds to carry out the requirements of Reading First are not being reallocated from other uses.

While about 6 percent of U.S. public schools and 12 percent of public school districts participate directly in the annual $1 billion Reading First program, the report also finds that the law has affected many non-participating schools and districts, through expanded local instructional and assessment programs and state professional development and technical assistance that often can apply to non-participating schools and districts.

However, Reading First might not be having as much impact as it could, according to the report, as its implementation often is not coordinated with Early Reading First, a complementary federal initiative aimed at boosting pre-reading and language skills prior to kindergarten. Of 37 states responding to a survey item, 24 reported that the two programs were not coordinated, while 10 states reported that they were. Three states did not know.

Technology is a key factor in the success of many grant recipients. Eighty-seven percent of Reading First recipients said the assessments they implemented through the program, many of which are computer-based solutions, were an “important” or “very important” factor in raising student achievement.

For example, in the Chicago Public Schools, teachers at Pope Elementary said their chosen assessment, DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), works well. “It’s able to diagnose deficiencies,” explained Michael McKinney, the school’s librarian, who helps administer the assessments.

When teachers in the Boston Public Schools were given Palm Pilots to administer the DIBELS reading test required by the city’s Reading First subgrant, the initial reaction was to ask, “Have you lost your mind?” said Ann Deveny, Boston’s senior program director for elementary language arts.

Teachers, though, are finding the Palm Pilots very easy to use, said Deveny, and the immediate access to data has created a sense of urgency. Students are excited about the use of technology, and teachers feel empowered.

“Plus,” said Deveny, “I can see immediately what students are being tested and what the results are by student, classroom, and school.” Literacy coaches and principals can view results for the school and can compare these with other schools. Ultimately, the district will be able to view data longitudinally and compare the original Reading First schools with the 12 schools that are implementing the model using local or state funds, according to the report.

Link:

CEP report: “Keeping Watch on Reading First”
http://www.cep-dc.org/pubs/readingfirst

For example, in the Chicago Public Schools, teachers at Pope Elementary said their chosen assessment, DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills), works well. “It’s able to diagnose deficiencies,” explained Michael McKinney, the school’s librarian, who helps administer the assessments.

When teachers in the Boston Public Schools were given Palm Pilots to administer the DIBELS reading test required by the city’s Reading First subgrant, the initial reaction was to ask, “Have you lost your mind?” said Ann Deveny, Boston’s senior program director for elementary language arts.

Teachers, though, are finding the Palm Pilots very easy to use, said Deveny, and the immediate access to data has created a sense of urgency. Students are excited about the use of technology, and teachers feel empowered.

“Plus,” said Deveny, “I can see immediately what students are being tested and what the results are by student, classroom, and school.” Literacy coaches and principals can view results for the school and can compare these with other schools. Ultimately, the district will be able to view data longitudinally and compare the original Reading First schools with the 12 schools that are implementing the model using local or state funds, according to the report.

Link:

CEP report: “Keeping Watch on Reading First”
http://www.cep-dc.org/pubs/readingfirst