Quick Read Delivers Long-Term Plan for Reform

Published February 1, 2006

Delivering on the Promise of the 95% Reading and Math Goals
by Lynn Fielding, Nancy Kerr, and Paul Rosier
The New Foundation Press, Inc., 2004
328 pages, $50, ISBN: 0966687515

You can read Delivering on the Promise in about six hours. The authors suggest beginning the book by reading the Maxims of Achievements and Growth on pages 277-289 before embarking on the first chapter. So I did.

Maxim 6: On the first day of kindergarten, the range between students in the bottom and top quartile midpoints is six years in reading skills and four years in math.

Although the maxim itself didn’t surprise me, the implications did. When I received my M.Ed. in early childhood education, we learned all students’ skills even out at about third grade, because before that, they are working toward different developmental milestones. We were not told students whose skills lagged would have difficulty catching up to their peers without very specific remediation.

Maxim 26: The primary burden of catching up the student shifts from the parent to the public school system when the student enters kindergarten.

I was taught that eventually the light bulb would click on–that interventions were unnecessary. The prevailing theory in graduate school was we shouldn’t hurry the child. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with developmental differences.

Looking back, I can’t begin to fathom the negative impact this false educational pedagogy had on students who were entering school in the bottom percentiles. But now maybe I can. Isn’t this what the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is exposing: all the children left behind?

The devastation left in the wake of poor educational practices is exposed in no uncertain terms by test scores confirming subgroups of students are performing years below their current grade levels. The authors of this book have come up with a way to address the achievement gap using Targeted Assessment Growth (TAG), so all children can meet grade-level expectations in school.

Handbook for Teachers

This is done by increasing instructional time and targeting specific learning goals, based on educational deficiencies identified through diagnostic testing. Time spent on additional instruction is proportional to the level of deficiency. The authors have written a book that explains how to get 95 percent of students to reach each state’s reading and math goals.

“Remediation starts with phonemic awareness, moves to phonics, then accuracy, fluency, and comprehension,” the authors note. Basic skills are worked through sequentially.

Maxim 50: Students learn more quickly with direct instruction than they do with seatwork, entry tasks, homework, and other teaching techniques involving non-eyeball-to-eyeball teaching or practice time.

Certain components must be at work before it all comes together, the authors observe. There must be “educational leaders who see, communicate, and honor results-centered teaching.” Those leaders need to support teachers by “providing them with the best tools available, sharing the accountability for student-by-student progress,” the authors write.

Tale of Two Children

Chapter 12, “The Face of a Child,” simply made me cry. It graphically describes the learning experiences of two children–one of whom will not achieve success in his adult life because of his poor reading skills and consequent low employability. But it doesn’t have to be this way, the authors say.

The goal of NCLB is to compel schools to provide appropriate services for every student. The authors say school districts should encourage programs like READY, developed by the National Children’s Reading Foundation, to support parents in helping their child learn in the home.

READY was developed to help parents learn the types of interactions they need to have with their children from birth until they enter kindergarten to ensure they begin school with skills that are age-appropriate or better. That will go a long way toward preventing expensive remediation in the elementary years, the authors write.

Delivering on the Promise is a game plan for ensuring every school can meet the needs of every child. It won’t be easy, and it will take several years to implement the changes the authors suggest. But it is possible, and it can change countless lives for the better.

Nancy Salvato ([email protected]) is president of The Basics Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal, and social issues important to our country.