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Report of the National Reading Panel

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Methodological Overview

In what may be its most important action, the Panel then developed and adopted a set of rigorous research methodological standards. (See the methodology adopted by the Panel and printed as an addendum to this Report.) These standards guided the screening of the research literature relevant to each topic area addressed by the Panel. This screening process identified a final set of experimental or quasi-experimental research studies that were then subjected to detailed analysis. The evidence-based methodological standards adopted by the Panel are essentially those normally used in research studies of the efficacy of interventions in psychological and medical research. These include behaviorally based interventions, medications, or medical procedures proposed for use in the fostering of robust health and psychological development and the prevention or treatment of disease.

It is the view of the Panel that the efficacy of materials and methodologies used in the teaching of reading and in the prevention or treatment of reading disabilities should be tested no less rigorously. However, such standards have not been universally accepted or used in reading education research. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the total reading research literature met the Panel’s standards for use in the topic analyses.

The research literature screening process proceeded essentially as follows. For each topic, an initial pool of candidate studies was created by searching a minimum of two databases (PsycINFO and ERIC) for study reports relevant to the topic. To be included in the database, studies had to measure reading as an outcome. Reading was defined to include several behaviors such as the following: reading real words in isolation or in context, reading pseudowords that can be pronounced but have no meaning, reading text aloud or silently, and comprehending text that is read silently or orally. From the pool produced by the electronic searches of the databases, those studies were selected that met the following criteria:

  • Published in English in a refereed journal;
  • Focused on children’s reading development in the age/grade range from preschool to grade 12; and
  • Used an experimental or quasi-experimental design with a control group or a multiple-baseline method.

Those studies meeting the above criteria formed the set of studies subjected to further analysis. The next step was to code each study for several characteristics including the following:

  • Characteristics of study participants (age; demographics; cognitive, academic, and behavioral characteristics);
  • Study interventions, described in sufficient detail to allow for replicability, including how long the interventions lasted and how long the effects lasted;
  • Study methods, with sufficient description to allow judgments about how instruction fidelity was insured; and
  • Nature of the outcome measures and whether they were described fully.

For each study meeting the above criteria, relevant reported statistics were coded in a standardized format and analyzed. For several topics, the number of studies meeting criteria was sufficient to permit a formal statistical meta-analysis, including calculation of effect sizes. For others, a full meta-analysis could not be carried out. Where there were too few studies that satisfied the Panel’s criteria to permit a meta-analysis, the Panel made a decision to conduct a more subjective qualitative analysis to provide the best possible information about an instructional reading approach or program.

With this information as background, this Report is organized into sections to provide an overview of the major findings and determinations achieved by the NRP in the areas of alphabetics (phonemic awareness instruction and phonics instruction), fluency, comprehension (vocabulary instruction, text comprehension instruction, and teacher preparation and comprehension strategies instruction), teacher education and reading instruction, computer technology and reading instruction, and next steps. This Report concludes with some reflections on the NRP process and products.

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