Relative Failure Rates In Reading for Approaches to Early Instruction


John Wills Lloyd

Curry School of Education
University of Virginia

Here are highly simplified descriptions of several different approaches to education that were evaluated in a large-scale study of instruction in kindergarten through third grade (1000s of children). The descriptions here are brief, but more extensive descriptions are available in Nero and Associates (1976) Follow Through: A Resource Guide to Sponsor Models and Materials and other sources. The people implementing each model were given equal resources and were responsible for getting their approaches to early instruction implemented in multiple different sites around the U.S. All of the sites where the models were implemented were selected because the children living in the areas were especially likely to experience poverty and other factors that were associated with underachievement; however, it's important to note that the sites were not equal nor were the models assigned randomly to the sites.


Perspective on Reading

Bank Street

This method was concerned about the kinds of people that children should become: confident, inventive, responsive, productive human beings. Language and reading permeates the whole environment. Initially children learn to read through the recording of their own experiences and reading is taught as a useful and pleasurable skill. The classroom is arranged so that it encourages children to choose their activities, when appropriate, within the context of a carefully planned curriculum which stresses social studies.

Behavior Analysis

This model recommended systematic and precise use of positive reinforcement in classroom instruction. Classroom interactions should emphasize the use of positive reinforcement. Classrooms should be orderly but interesting places. Reading should begin with phonics based instruction and progress to comprehension activities.

Cognitive Curriculum (High Scope)

Teachers should establish an environment in which the children may have active experiences with a variety of objects, people, and materials. On a daily basis, children should plan, work to complete those plans, and informally present the products of their work to the teacher and to peers. The curriculum should include the highly integrated use of sciences, crafts, and arts. Activities should permit children to experience relationships directly as they generate products and events of personal value.

Direct Instruction

The method emphasized (a) working in small groups, (b) using programmed instruction, (c) teaching intelligent behavior, (d) using reinforcement, and (e) monitoring child performance. Early reading instruction should emphasize learning sound-symbol relationships, blending, and similar decoding skills, but should rapidly progress to incorporating comprehension skills.

Educational Development Corporation

This method's goal was to develop self-reliant, self-motivated, socially responsible and intellectually competent individuals, who can achieve their fullest potential, regardless of antecedents. These classrooms are based on several assumptions, including: (1) Natural and homemade materials that children and their teachers bring into the classroom are as important as the commercial materials provided by the school and (2) the physical environment of the classroom should reflect the incorporation of the children's needs, strengths, interests, and activities.

Parent Education

The aim of this model was to create tasks that are soundly based on Piagetian educational philosophy. The lessons should give children meaningful experiences with a balance between the cognitive, affective, and psycho-motor skill areas. Parents should be heavily involved in teaching their children fundamental skills.

Tucson Early Education Model

The proponents of this view argued that the child acquires vocabulary for things, objects, and relationships that have been experienced. Based on these assumptions, the method emphasizes a language experience approach. Children should talk about experiences, dictate accounts of them, and use those products in learning reading. How a child learns is seen as equally important as what a child learns.

All of the participating children, regardless of sponsor, took the same tests of reading skill. The tests, which were administered by people who were independent of the sponsors, were the reading section of the Metropolitan Achievement Test and included assessments of both word knowledge and comprehension.

I examined the data for the group of children known as "Cohort II" who had received instruction according to these models for 2 or 3 years. I summarized the results directly from the report submitted by Abt Associates of Cambridge, MA, to the U.S. Office of Education. The report is called

Education As Experimentation:
A Planned Variation Model

Volume IIIA:

Findings: Cohort II
Interim Findings: Cohort III

and bears the date July 14, 1976. The report has a table for each of these sponsors (it's table n-10 for each sponsor, where "n" refers to the chapter describing that sponsor's outcome) that gives the "Percent 1 Year or More Below Grade Level" on "Total Reading" (both decoding and comprehension). The table gives this percent for each site (school district) that followed each sponsor; sponsors worked with different numbers of sites. The figures provided in the following graph are the median for each sponsor (i.e., the middle score of the group of scores for the sites of each sponsor). Readers should not place much emphasis on small differences between the median percents; a difference of 5% is probably not nearly as important as the difference of 10-15%.

In an average group of students taking this test, about 20% would be expected to have scores 1 grade level or more below the expected score based on their ages. For children from low-income backgrounds, of course, one would be likely to find even more students (perhaps about 40 or 45%) who scored 1 or more grade levels below their expected levels. So, these results might look quite different if the models were implemented with children who were not selected because of their neighborhoods' impoverished economic status. Differences among the sites on other variables (e.g., levels of poverty and other variables) have not been controlled in this comparison.

To gain some perspective on these data, ask yourself,


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