Why didn’t we know sooner?
Education Week reports (subscription?) that a new report from the federal What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) shows a long-standing program for reading, “Reading Mastery,” is not effective for the learning disabled students who use it.
Worse, the program seems to have negative effects for learning disabled students in some areas of reading development such as “Alphabetics,” which most of us might call phonics. If so, Reading Mastery, which is widely used in all 50 states, could be doing more harm than good for these special reading-challenged students.
However, there is more to the story than what EdWeek covers.
Part of the problem with evaluating the real performance of Reading Mastery is that only two of the 17 available studies on this program’s impact on learning disabled students meet the WWC’s minimum standards for reporting quality.
The company that publishes Reading Mastery has questioned the WWC’s findings, citing other reports that show this program works. Apparently, the quality of that research isn’t acceptable to the WWC.
Also, the report EdWeek mentions that was specifically referenced by the publisher does not discuss Reading Mastery’s impact on learning disabled students. It discusses how the program works with English language learners.
That leads to a surprise. Other WWC research shows Reading Mastery may not be without some value. The WWC looked at Reading Mastery’s performance with English language learners some time ago. The one high quality report the WWC found showed Reading Recovery did have potentially positive effects with that student group.
So, Reading Mastery may only be problematic with students who have learning disabilities.
All of this raises much larger questions: how does a program become so widely used in education for more than 40 years with so little high quality research to support that it works – or with which student groups it works?
Most recently, we discussed an example only a few days ago of the Kentucky Department of Education touting a report that clearly raises concerns related to methodology and the material it left out that could significantly alter the findings. Why did the department jump on this report without digging deeper, first?
Perhaps the answer to that will relate to how questions about Reading Mastery are just now coming to light after this program has been in use with children for over four decades.