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Published: 9/28/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Reading program's success questioned

After four years in some Toledo Public Schools classrooms, the Direct Instruction reading program has helped first and second graders read sooner, but has had little effect on fourth-grade proficiency scores.

Dr. Robert Rachor, director of data and research for the district, told the school board's curriculum committee last night that the results for Direct Instruction are mixed at best.

The review of Direction Instruction's success rate was requested by the school board, which has begun to question whether the nationally touted program is worth keeping in Toledo.

The district has had Direct Instruction since 1997-98 at three schools - Fulton, Lincoln, and Mount Vernon, and since 1999-00 at three schools - Warren, King, and Stewart. The program was added to a new school this year, Old West End Academy.

“Evidence that Direct Instruction has impacted student reading achievement [in the first three schools] is sparse,” Dr. Rachor said. There was even less evidence of a difference at the three schools adopting Direct Instruction in 1999-00.

The program emphasizes sounding out words, using repetition, and frequent testing to keep children on track.

Dr. Rachor said Direct Instruction has been validated by the U.S. Department of Education as effective in high-poverty schools.

“The federal government says it's effective. If that's true, the question is, ‘Why is it not working in Toledo?'” he said. The administration is working on hiring an outside reading and testing expert to analyze Toledo's program and make some recommendations, Dr. Rachor said.

Despite Direct Instruction's negligible effect on the proficiency passing rates, Dr. Rachor and Deputy Superintendent Sheila Kendrick Austin said Direct Instruction has great support among parents, teachers, and principals.

“Kids are on task. They're in reading groups, answering questions in unison, reading in unison. It's very fast-paced. They start reading at a relatively earlier age than before the program,” Dr. Rachor said. “In that sense, people really like it.”

Dr. Austin said parents flock to schools for “Direct Instruction nights.” And she said principals believe the program improves children's attendance and discipline.

Some of the findings about Direct Instruction are:

  • Of the three original schools, Mount Vernon and Fulton showed an increase in the reading comprehension scores of first and second graders. At Lincoln, the reading scores fell at both grade levels.

  • Fourth-grade passing rates failed to increase at Fulton and Mount Vernon, and fell significantly at Lincoln since the conversion to Direct Instruction.

    The curriculum is marketed by McGraw Hill/SRA and is budgeted to cost the district $534,000 this year to pay for supplies, training, and Direct Instruction facilitators at the schools.

    At a school board meeting Tuesday night, board member Terry Glazer questioned the continued use of the program. At yesterday's committee meeting, board member Keith Wilkowski said he would like to hear from the teachers who use the curriculum.

    Dr. Rachor evaluated the reading program Success For All, which was adopted two years ago at Grove Patterson Academy and Whittier Elementary School.

    Since then, Patterson's fourth-grade test scores have increased while Whittier's have declined.

    Dr. Rachor said it is too early to come to a conclusion about Success for All.



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