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Reading Yesterday and Today: The NRP Report and Other Factors

Report of the National Reading Panel was published over 11 years ago. And since that time, the report—and, more so, the summary of the report—has had a major impact on what has been taught and tested in reading instruction in the early grades.

Influence of the NRP Report

Since the 1999 publication of the report, state content standards and commercial reading materials have been based on the organization and findings of the National Reading Panel (NRP). The panel, which based its findings on a review of research limited to replicable, experimental, research studies, emphasizes the reading areas of phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.

The summary of the panel’s report, in an effort to condense and simplify the complex findings covered in the complete report, exaggerates the importance of some areas such as phonemic awareness and phonics (over 4 pages) and gives insufficient attention to others such as comprehension (less than a half page).

It misrepresents some findings. For example, the report states that “Systematic synthetic phonics had a positive and significant effect on disabled readers’ reading skills” (NICHD 2000b, p. 9). It does not include the finding that the effects were decreased after grade 2 and does not capture the conclusion from the full report that “specific systematic phonics programs are all more effective than non-phonics programs and they do not appear to differ significantly from each other in effectiveness although more evidence is needed…” (NICHD, 2000a, p. 2-132).

The report completely ignores the areas of oral language development and motivation, presumably because there was not sufficient experimental research in those areas.

The full Reports of the Subgroups provides support for many of the instructional practices that NEA endorses. The following statements, for example, are factors that NEA believes promote quality teaching and learning in reading:

  • Literacy acquisition is a complex process for which there is no single key to success. (p. 2-43)
  • Ultimately, though, teachers need to evaluate the methods they use against measured success in their own students. (p. 2-43)
  • In implementing systematic phonics instruction, educators must keep the end in mind and ensure that children understand the purpose of learning letter-sounds and are able to apply their skills in daily reading and writing activities. (p. 2-135)
  • It may be necessary to free teachers of the expectation that their job is to follow directions narrowly. (p. 4-47)
  • Indeed, they (researchers) have found that reading comprehension instruction cannot be routinized. (p. 4-125)

NEA’s Response to the NRP Report

NEA assembled a group of members who were recognized teacher leaders to develop a report on teacher-based recommendations for reading instruction. This report, Report of the NEA Task Force on Reading 2000, added the knowledge of experienced teachers to the reports on guidelines for reading instruction, thereby broadening the range of knowledge about teaching and learning to read.

Literacy Research Since 2000

Since the publication of the Report of the National Reading Panel, several comprehensive summaries of research related to literacy have been published that add considerably to the understanding of teaching and learning literacy. They include the following summaries:

  • Knowledge to Support the Teaching of Reading
  • Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, 5th ed.
  • Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts, 2nd ed.
  • Handbook of Reading Research, Volume III 

Much has been learned from research about teaching reading in the past 11 years, and there is also information coming from international studies that indicate what countries with high achievement on international assessments do to teach reading.

Influence of the Common Core State Standards

Reading instruction today is coming under the influence of the new Common Core State Standards. They are fewer, broader, and more complex than most current state standards, focusing on goals for grade levels rather than a list of enabling skills. They leave room for flexibility and teacher decision making. Most important for early reading, comprehension receives major, constant emphasis from kindergarten through grade 12. It will not be possible for students to achieve these standards if they are spending too much time on phonics and word level instruction in the early grades.

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts emphasize thinking skills and using reading for complex tasks:

  • Grade1, Reading Standards for Literature, Number 5: “Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types”  (p. 11).
  • Grade 1, Reading Standards for Informational Text, Number 9: “Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures) (p. ). 

These new standards and the new performance assessment being developed to determine their attainment will require reading instruction that moves far beyond the guidelines of the Report of the National Reading Panel. They offer flexibility but also demand a high level of teacher expertise. To find more resources on the standards visit the NEA web page on new standards and assessments. Insert link to NEA New Standards and Assessments.

References and Resources

  • Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards.
  • Flood, James, Lapp, Diane, Squire, James R., & Jensen, Julie M., eds. (2003). Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts, 2nd ed.. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  • Kamil, Michael L., Mosenthal, Peter B. , Pearson, P. David, & Barr, Rebecca, eds. (2000). Handbook of reading research, Volume III. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
  • McCardle, Peggy & Chambra, Vinita. (2004). The voice of evidence in reading research. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
  • National Education Association. Report of the NEA Task Force on Reading 2000.
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000a). Report of the National Reading Panel: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. (NIH publication NO. 00-4754). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • National Institute Of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000b). Report of the National Reading Panel: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Summary. (NIH publication No. 00-4769). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Ruddell, Robert B.and Unrau, Norman J., eds. (2004). Theoretical models and processes of reading, 5th ed.  Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
  • National Reading Panel Web Site: Publications and Materials. (April 2000). Research-based findings in two reports and a video entitled "Teaching Children to Read."