Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

AT ODDS: THE NRP REPORT ON PHONICS - More Smoking Guns: A Response to Linnea Ehri and Steven Stahl

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

AT ODDS: THE NRP REPORT ON PHONICS - More Smoking Guns: A Response to Linnea Ehri and Steven Stahl

Article excerpt

Her critique of the National Reading Panel report did not uncover minor oversights or occasional errors, Ms. Garan responds. Rather, it documented a consistent pattern of sloppy research and, what's worse, blatant and continuing misrepresentation of findings.

IN MY MARCH article, "Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors: A Critique of the National Reading Panel Report on Phonics," I used the data and words of the National Reading Panel (NRP) to establish that its report was fatally flawed in terms of the most fundamental research protocols, including validity, reliability, and generalizability. I established that, rather than living up to the highly publicized claims of "scientific" accuracy, the report was riddled with errors. Furthermore, I documented a disturbing pattern of fundamental contradictions between the findings in the lengthy Reports of the Subgroups and the panel's reporting of its own findings in the separately packaged, widely distributed Summary and publicity video.

NRP member Joanne Yatvin concurred with my analysis. In her letter published in the June 2001 Kappan, Yatvin acknowledges the "weaknesses and inconsistencies" of the NRP phonics report and attributes them, in part, to the panel's "eagerness to embrace phonics as a cure-all." She also agrees that the NRP report is fundamentally lacking in validity and notes that the panel used "all kinds of" isolated skills, including the decoding of "pseudo-words," and called them "reading."

But the terms "reading" and "reading growth," as used by the NRP, are actually misnomers, not by my definition, but according to what the panel itself declared should be the legitimate outcome of practice in phonics skills: the authentic application to text. I also documented that, while isolated phonics instruction resulted in statistically significant outcomes with regard to children's performance on isolated skills - such as reading pseudowords or word identification - these skills did not transfer to real-life textual application - such as conventional spelling or the comprehension of authentic text - at a statistically significant level. Again, I did so using the panel's own data.

Yatvin confirms one of the most important points I made in my original article - that the results included in the NRP report have very little to do with true reading. Furthermore, she concurs that the panel misrepresented the findings of the report, as the conclusions in the brief, widely distributed Summary are in direct contradiction to both the panel's data and its own findings and discussion in the lengthy Reports of the Subgroups. Unfortunately, it is the errors that made headlines and were translated into national policy, while the facts remained obscured in pages of tables and data. In fact, it is the loudly trumpeted - but fundamentally inaccurate - research of the NRP that constitutes the "science" of the Bush Administration's education plan. Within the Bush plan, the science of the NRP represents both the carrot and the stick. That is, the plan proposes that funds be distributed or withheld based on the compliance of schools with the "science" of the report of the NRP. Because of its enormous political and financial clout, it is important that the research of the NRP is indeed above reproach.

Schizophrenic Science and Fuzzy Math

Unfortunately, not only are the results reported by the NRP inconsistent even within its own pages, but the panel itself is unable to come to a consensus about the accuracy of its "science." Panel member Linnea Ehri and NRP "contributor" Steven Stahl disagree with fellow panel member Joanne Yatvin. Their rebuttal to my article is troubling in that it not only perpetuates but also demonstrably extends the inaccuracies of the original NRP report.

In their rebuttal, Ehri and Stahl state, "As we will document, her [Garan's] criticisms are highly selected, ill-founded, and overgeneralized." I ask Kappan readers to note the use of the word "document. …

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