Md. reading plan flawed, experts say Authorities say report is unlikely to improve student performance

'Clearly inferior'

Superintendent calls for significant revision

August 03, 1998|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

The state's tentative blueprint for reading instruction provides little meaningful guidance to teachers and contradicts evidence about the way children learn to read, according to five leading experts in reading.

The authorities say the document does not reflect the most important advances in the field and is unlikely to improve the substandard reading performance of Maryland schoolchildren.

The harsh reviews have prompted state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to call for significant revisions before the report is sent to schools.

Compared with documents produced recently in states such as Texas, California, New York and Illinois that are leaders in reading reform, Maryland's report is "clearly inferior," said Louisa Moats, head of a Washington research project funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"This framework is truly the most unproductive effort of any I have seen from any state," said Marilyn Jager Adams, author of a widely consulted synthesis of reading research.

"This is a document that could have been written 10 years ago, that is dismissive of research, that does not usefully inform novices, that will not improve veterans, and that cannot serve in any way to bring parity across different schools and classrooms," she said.

The 62-page report is the work of a task force of 25 educators, mostly representatives of state school districts and colleges of education, who consulted 1,500 studies on reading and met monthly over the past 16 months.

The panel is part of a larger effort led by Grasmick to improve reading achievement in Maryland, where nearly two-thirds of third-graders score below the state standard. Forty-five percent of the state's fourth-graders couldn't read at grade level in 1994, a rate slightly worse than the national average. Research shows that much of early reading failure is preventable by proven instructional methods -- methods that many education colleges and schools have yet to embrace.

Last week, the State Board of Education increased the number of reading courses required of Maryland teachers, a reform primarily targeted at education colleges. The task force report, a separate undertaking, is destined for Maryland public schools as a road map for classroom instruction.

Task force chairwoman Patricia Richardson, superintendent of St. Mary's County schools, said the panel will not sign off on a final report before considering the critiques of independent reviewers and making any necessary revisions.

"If we didn't state something clearly enough, we have to go back and see what we can do to strengthen it," she said. "If there's a conflict with the research, we'll go back and review the research. We don't want to misrepresent the research. When it goes out it has to be clean and readable and the message has to be strong."

But John Guthrie, a task force member and a reading authority at the University of Maryland, College Park, said last week that he considered the report nearly final, needing only minor changes.

The report, he said, is aligned with the best research of the past decade -- not only scientific research but studies of the practices of outstanding teachers.

There are varying interpretations of the research, Guthrie said, and the criticisms reflect the views of "very strong phonics advocates, not a mainstream research camp."

While the critics called for more specifics, Guthrie said the panel purposely avoided specifics in some cases so the report could be used for a range of purposes. "We did not intend to compose a book, nor did we intend to present a specific prescriptive teaching program for all schools," he said.

'Our problem is different'

The panel's charge, he said, was to provide a comprehensive map not only for beginning readers but for students at all grade levels. The critics, as well as reformers in states such as Texas and California, have defined the reading problem as a beginning reading problem, he said. "We don't define it that way. We define it as a K-12 charge. Our solution is going to be different because our problem is different."

But in response to negative evaluations from five experts, four of whom reviewed the document at The Sun's request, Grasmick said she was "enormously concerned" and would not accept the report until the panel makes substantial revisions. If the panel doesn't agree, Grasmick said, she'll tap outside professionals to write it.

"I'm absolutely dead set on ensuring that this meets the highest current standard for reading acquisition," she said. "I won't be satisfied with anything less."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.