At the start of the year, Eduflack made a couple of promises. I would seek to throw the spotlight on positive stories that were not getting the attention they deserved. I would look to education policy stories outside of Washington, DC. And I would continue to my Don Quixote-like obsession with continuing to push the notion that evidence-based reading instruction works, and that it can be proven in state after state.
A few weeks ago, we talked about the exemplary results out in California, where student reading scores have significantly risen after the adoption of scientifically based reading instruction under Reading First. This follows similar data from states from Idaho to Ohio, where we’ve seen tangible, significant impact of SBRR on student achievement. Now we set our sights on the Lone Star State, where reading score on the state’s TAKS exam again show that evidence-based reading works if our goal is to boost student reading proficiency and achievement.
The data is clear. Looking at 2003 data (pre-RF) and 2008 data (the supposed end of RF), third graders in RF schools who passed the TAKS reading section rose 14 percent, from 77 percent to 91 percent. That compares to 4 percent gains for both all students and for those in non-RF classrooms.
For Hispanic students, the overall state gain was 6 percent, but Hispanic students in RF schools posted a whopping 15 percent gain. African-American third graders did even better under RF, posting a 4 percent gain overall, but a 16 percent gain in RF classes. Among economically disadvantaged students, those in RF classrooms saw 15 percent reading passage gains. And limited English proficient students in RF schools saw an incredible 19 percent gain in their reading proficiency, according to TAKS.
All of this is from data available from the Texas Education Agency. All of this flies in the face of the urban legend that Reading First had little, if any, impact on student reading proficiency. All of it shows that evidence-based reading instruction just plain works. Yet none of this has made its way into the policy debate.
If you talk to education reformers today, they’ll tell you the most significant challenge educators face today is closing the achievement gap. The differences in performance between white and African-American students, between white and Hispanic students, and between rich and poor students should be a national embarrassment. We are selling all students on the notion that they need a high school diploma and some form of postsecondary education in order to succeed in life. But at the same time, we want to ignore that so many students are struggling to be reading proficient by the end of the third grade and will never have the literacy skills to succeed in college.
Those in the classroom will tell you that struggling fourth grade readers have a near impossible task of catching up over the remainder of their academic career. Where they need more time and more intensity in their reading practice and instruction, they get less as they start to study other academic subjects. Then they fall behind in social studies and science and even math because they lack the literacy skills needed to perform at grade level in other subjects.
That is why SBRR is so important, and that is why Eduflack continues to tilt at windmills here. Forget what the IES Impact Study may have said. It looked at a very small group of schools using a research model that can’t be replicated (as we don’t know the handful of schools that were studied). Let’s turn our attention to what matters — student achievement.
Like it or not, the best measure we now have for student achievement is the state assessment. In state after state, that state assessment is showing that student reading achievement is on the rise, markedly so since the introduction of RF in 2003. Texas is just the latest collection of data points. We’re seeing it in state after state.
What makes Texas’ data that much more interesting is the clear picture it paints with regard to SBRR and its ability to close the achievement gap. Doing what is proven effective in literacy instruction, teachers in the Lone Star State dramatically improved student reading achievement for African-American, Hispanic, and poor students. Students are learning, students are reading, and the major variable between 2003 and 2008 was the introduction (and requirement) of evidence-based instruction, materials, interventions, and professional development.
It all begs the question — how much more state-level data is necessary before the naysayers and the doomsdayers admit that evidence-based reading instruction works, that we can show it works, and that we can replicate its successes in schools and classrooms where too many children are still left behind? We can get every child reading. We just need to stay the course, and get real, proven approaches and materials into more classrooms, empower more teachers with the PD and support they need to use it, and effectively measure ongoing student progress (while offering specific interventions when needed).
If SBRR is working and proven effective deep in the heart of Texas (along with California, Ohio, and elsewhere), how can we think of putting on the brakes and denying these kids who are demonstrating real improvement?