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What stick is driving the Reading First hoop?

If the statement "assessment drives instruction" is true, the pendulum seems to be swinging toward more direct, systematic reading instruction based on the dictates emanating from Washington, D.C., and the Reading First Initiative. This article will focus on the new assessment known as DIBELS.

Looking at reading from a historical perspective, in the 1960s and '70s, a bottom-up approach with emphasis on sub-skills was the accepted practice. In the 1980s and '90s, a holistic approach, with a focus on whole text, Big Books, original books, and readalouds, was embraced. The late 1990s brought us an "interactive model" blending phonics and authentic reading texts. Currently, the federal government decisions involving the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), specifically, the Reading First Initiative, are dictating assessments that will surely change reading instruction in U.S. classrooms, as teachers scramble to meet the mandates in order to continue to receive federal funding.

The Reading First Initiative supports the importance of classroom teachers' use of diagnostic tests that are "scientifically based," such as DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). DIBELS is composed of the following subtests: phonological awareness (recognizing initial sounds and segmenting sounds within words), alphabetic principle (decoding nonsense words), and oral reading fluency (reading rate). Due to time constraints, other effective performance assessments that show growth in reading skills, such as the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), Running Records, Miscue Analysis, and a variety of informal reading inventories, will be minimized or dropped in Reading First schools.

Based on the National Reading Panel Report (National Reading Panel, 2000), five essential components of reading instruction were identified: phonemic: awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. DIBELS addresses the first three, but not meanings of vocabulary words or comprehension. Although there is a correlation between fluency and comprehension, decoding the words at an average rate does not guarantee understanding their meaning. It is important that classroom teachers remain empowered to continually seek better ways to facilitate the learning of all children, based on a variety of assessments, as well as keeping comprehension as the ultimate goal of reading. In support of the idea that teachers are decision-makers, Gambrell and Mazzoni (1999) state, "Teachers are ultimately the instructional designers who develop practice in relevant meaningful ways for their particular community of learners" (p. 13). As in many professions, there are different needs for different clientele requiring a variety of assessments and materials to help them. Through the directives of the Reading First Initiative, the teacher's role in the instructional design is certainly minimized.

In conclusion, it is important for educators to recognize the direction that the stick that is driving the Reading First hoop is taking today's teachers. First, based on the assessments prescribed to be used, the stick has now swung toward a significantly greater emphasis on sub-skills with less emphasis on comprehension. Second, the results of "scientifically based" tests are receiving greater emphasis than more holistic reading and writing performance assessments. Third, "Big Brother's" ideas in Washington are dictating tests to be used for measuring progress, as well as the instructional materials. Finally, the instructional methods to be used for teaching seem to generate a "one-size-fits-all" reading program with minimal teacher input.


Gambrell, L. B., & Mazzoni, S. (1999). Principles and best practice: Finding common ground. In L. Gambrell, L. Moorow, S. Nueman, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 11-21). New York: Guliford Press.

National Reading Panel. (2000). National Reading Panel Report. [Online]. Available: www.nationalreading / Publications / publications.htm.

--Cynthia L. Gordinier and Karen Foster,

Program Development Committee
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Title Annotation:Policy Thoughts; Reading First Initiative
Author:Foster, Karen
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Previous Article:University of Guam ACEI Student Branch.
Next Article:Focus on membership benefits: ACEI web site.

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