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Published: Sunday, 2/9/2003

Make direct instruction work

Mixed test results make the future of direct instruction uncertain in Toledo elementary schools. A district-commissioned study on the program cites problems in its implementation.

Direct instruction employs rapid drills between students and teacher to help students learn to read. The program came into question when reading passage rates dropped on this year's fourth-grade reading test for students at four of the schools, while the rest of the district improved.

The technique has been in use in three urban elementary schools for six years; the district added three more central-city schools in 1999.

Superintendent Eugene Sanders correctly assessed that, “The bottom line is results. Whatever reading methodology we use, we have to have results from it.”

Yet it appears that any failure in this reading program has to do with how it is implemented. That's the finding of a study conducted by the Washington-based Education Quality Institute and the University of Memphis Center for Research in Education.

The researchers say that the district's execution of direct instruction is inconsistent and incomplete.

Now, as TPS evaluates the study results, it can't overlook the high turnover rates among teachers and students at schools that use the program. It's silly to expect good test results when turnover rates are high.

Researchers suggest improving teacher training and conveying the urgency to ensure proper implementation. Additionally, the district is considering hiring a consultant to work toward those ends.

Cost is a factor - this year's direct instruction is a $500,000 expense - but the chief academic administrator says the district will try to keep the program. After all, when executed correctly, direct instruction works. So let's make certain correct execution is a priority.

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