Section Four--Lack of Scientific Support for Commercial Reading Programs

There is no independent research to support the use of a commercial reading program—nor does the NRP recommend any commercial programs.

The NRP did not investigate any commercial programs in their entirety and did not recommend any programs for teaching the five components of reading instruction they considered. Indeed, rigid use of a commercial reading program may crowd out silent reading, literature, writing, and discussion from the curriculum, with harmful effects on children’s literacy development.

The NRP did not endorse the use of scripted reading programs, which generally showed negative results for spelling and comprehension beyond grade one (Subgroups, phonics, Appendix G, pp. 2-161, 2-168).

In the subgroup discussion of teaching phonics, the NRP also notes that children vary in the skills they bring to school and therefore need different amounts of instruction. Rigid, formulaic, scripted programs do not meet students’ individual needs. Furthermore, teachers as well as students may find such programs boring and unmotivating (Subgroups, p. 2-137). Richard Allington (2002) cites a number of research studies indicating that effective teaching depends on minute-by-minute decision making and cannot be scripted.

Phonics and phonemic awareness may receive disproportionate emphasis in some commercial programs.

Some of the most widely used commercial programs offer a year of phonemic awareness training—without connecting sounds with letters—and three or more years of phonics. The NRP found that phonemic awareness programs of fewer than 20 hours total were more effective than longer programs (Subgroups, p. 2-42). Research also suggests that teaching phonemic awareness and phonics together is more effective than teaching each skill separately (Subgroups, pp. 2-33, 3-34). The NRP did not reach a conclusion about how much phonics instruction was optimal (Subgroups, p. 2-1375).

In general, the commercial programs promoted by government agencies managing the Reading First initiative are far from research-based.

In addition to putting a greater emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics than can be justified by the results of the NRP report, these commercial programs provide instructional designs that are not based on research at all. Important features of such programs—balance among instructional components, time allocated to them, and sequencing—have been subjectively determined by publishers. In some instances, the sequencing of program components is actually contraindicated by the NRP research, as happens when phonemic awareness is taught prior to and separate from phonics.

Go to Section Five: Recommendations Regarding Reading First

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