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Do not sentence alternatives to oblivion

Here are some little-noticed facts from the recent Thomas Coram Research Unit report on Reading Recovery.

Over the 20 months of the study, the Reading Recovery children had about twice as much time spent on them as the "phonological intervention" children and three or four times as much time as the 'control groups'.

The Reading Recovery children made only eight months' progress in the past year of the project. In other words, they did not even keep up with the clock after their special tuition.

The RR children were between seven years eight months and eight years two months old at the end of the project, but they had an average reading age of only seven years four months. As Reading Recovery aims to bring children up to the average for their class, reading standards in the schools concerned must have been unacceptably low, even after the reported "leakage" from RR into mainstream teaching.

The Thomas Coram report is less than fair to the Direct Instruction (DISTAR) scheme. In the first place, it takes no account of recent improvements in the scheme. In the second place, it mentions two American studies as if they cast doubt on the long-term effects of the scheme on children's comprehension.

The truth is that both studies are complimentary about DISTAR and one showed positive effects, even on comprehension, right up to ninth grade.

Here are some more facts. The 1994 Butterfly Project produced an average of 15 months' gain in reading age in three weeks. Children were taught in groups and the cost was Pounds 250 per child. (Remember that Reading Recovery produced 17 months' gain in reading age in eight or nine months, with individual tuition costing more than Pounds 1,000 per child).

A study in Cumbria which used a scheme involving "reading with phonology" produced a much better rate of improvement than Reading Recovery.

"Phonological intervention" is not genuine phonics teaching. Good phonics teaching can ensure whole-school high standards, even in inner-city schools.

We are still not being given fair comparisons between Reading Recovery and the alternatives. The information is disturbingly partial, in both senses of the word.

JENNIFER CHEW

The Mount

Malt Hill

Egham

Surrey

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