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READING NEXT: New Report Outlines a Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy

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"no literacy program targeted at older readers is likely to cause significant improvements."

Leading literacy researchers have identified fifteen fundamental elements of effective adolescent literacy programs in a report to Carnegie Corporation of New York, released on October 13th by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy also stresses that action balanced with research is needed to improve the literacy achievement of the youth of today and tomorrow. It outlines a balanced vision for effecting immediate change for current students while also building the literacy field’s knowledge base through continued research.

Reading Next delineates fifteen elements aimed at improving middle and high school literacy achievement right now, and recommends that practitioners and program designers “flexibly try out various combinations” in search of the most effective arrangement. The report stresses that although it is not necessary to include all fifteen elements in every intervention program, three of them-professional development, formative assessment, and summative assessment-must be present. Without these, “no literacy program targeted at older readers is likely to cause significant improvements.”

In the foreword of Reading Nextcoauthor Catherine E. Snow, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes, “It is clear that getting third graders to read at grade level is an important and challenging task, and one that needs ongoing attention from researchers, teacher educators, teachers, and parents. But many excellent third-grade readers will falter or fail in later-grade academic tasks if the teaching of reading is neglected in the middle and secondary grades.”

A quick look at the numbers shows support for Snow’s argument. Approximately eight million young people between fourth and twelfth grade struggle to read at grade level. According to national longitudinal studies, close to 75 percent of students with reading problems in third grade still experience difficulty reading in the ninth grade. At the same time, efforts to help these students have been few and far between because of a perceived lack of knowledge on how to reach them or best meet their needs.

In the report, coauthors Snow and Gina Biancarosa, an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argue that meeting the needs of older students who struggle with reading will require “expanding the discussion of reading instruction from Reading First-acquiring grade-level reading skills by third grade-to Reading Next-acquiring the reading skills that can serve youth for a lifetime.”

Snow and Biancarosa note that we already know which tools work well for which type of struggling reader, but we do not know enough about how to direct and coordinate remedial tools to the maximum benefit, nor do we know enough about how to effectively combine current programs and approaches. In spring 2004, a panel of five nationally known and respected educational researchers met with representatives from Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education to address these questions. At the meeting, the researchers drew up a set of recommendations for meeting the needs of the nation’s struggling readers in grades 4-12, while simultaneously envisioning a way to propel the field forward.

Reading Next, the result of the researchers’ deliberations, is a “call to researchers in this area to exchange a bit of their self-determination in the service of producing more interpretable findings, and a call to funders interested in educational reform to forfeit a bit of their programmatic autonomy to increase the returns on their investments,” according to Snow. If both groups heed this call, she says, “adolescent readers and the teachers dedicated to their success will benefit.”

The Alliance’s forum releasing Reading Next featured the five researchers whose discussions led to the report–Dr. Davis Francis, University of HoustonDr. Donald Deshler, University of KansasDr. James McPartland, Johns Hopkins UniversityDr. Michael Kamil, Stanford University; and Dr. John Guthrie, University of Maryland–and convened others from the research community and representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Senate to offer reactions to the report. Sandy Kress, of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, LLP, served as the moderator.

A video of the complete proceedings, written reactions to the report from outside organizations, and the complete report are available on the Alliance website at https://all4ed.org/events/reading_next.

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