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Literacy Program Successful in Kentucky, Though Not Nationally

A recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences stated that the Reading First national literacy program was not having a statistically significant impact on student reading achievement. However, the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development (CCLD), which is housed in the University of Kentucky College of Education, reports that the opposite is true in Kentucky.

Research conducted by the CCLD shows that in the 72 schools across the Commonwealth of Kentucky that are participating in the Reading First program, reading growth has been seen across the board. In the first four years of the five-year program, the percentage of students in kindergarten through third grades proficient in reading has increased 30.1 percent to 71.7 percent (from 2004 to 2007). Also, in these schools, the achievement gap between white students and other racial groups is narrowing. For example, Caucasian students have improved 14.7 percent while African-American students have improved 28.8 percent.

Why has the program shown success in Kentucky and not in the national sample surveyed by the Institute of Education Sciences? Kentucky is using a comprehensive and customized approach to the Reading First program said CCLD Executive Director Susan Cantrell.

“Rather than using one standard package of materials statewide, Kentucky’s proposal for the Reading First grant is based on meeting the needs of individual schools and students,” Cantrell said. “The Kentucky program is grounded more in professional development and teacher learning than in just implementing scripted packaged programs.

“Teachers implementing Reading First in Kentucky are addressing comprehension, word recognition, vocabulary and fluency in a comprehensive way with an appropriate focus in each of those areas,” Cantrell said. “Our research is telling us that a comprehensive approach which includes high-quality classroom instruction and effective intervention programs makes a positive difference in young children’s reading achievement.”

Kentucky has a number of other successful literacy intervention programs that Reading First is building on. Other statewide initiatives involving CCLD include the Read to Achieve program and the Kentucky Reading Project (KRP). Read to Achieve, funded through the Kentucky General Assembly and administered by the Kentucky Department of Education, operates in 311 elementary schools and reaches more than 10,000 students. It provides reading intervention services for primary-aged students who are having difficulty with reading, and the majority of students read at or above grade level after participating in the program. KRP, operated by CCLD, has provided intensive training in reading instruction to more than 3,000 of Kentucky’s teachers over the past nine years, improving classroom instruction so that the need for intervention is reduced.

“It is essential that we keep these early literacy programs going so that all children have access to good instruction that meets their needs,” Cantrell said.

Reading First was established by the national No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to help all children read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. In 2009, a final report will be issued providing an additional year of data that will examine the impact of scientifically based reading instruction on improvements in reading comprehension.

The CCLD, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is a collaboration between Kentucky’s eight state universities and focuses on improving literacy instruction in early childhood through adulthood with numerous professional development and research initiatives. For more information, visit www.kentuckyliteracy.org.