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Reading Recovery for First Grade Children with Reading Difficulties
by Dr. Joseph Torgesen

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Wrightslaw Note: Dr. Joseph Torgesen is one of the most highly respected reading researchers in the world. The text in this article is from a longer interview of Dr. Torgesen on LD Talk where Dr. Torgesen answers questions about effective ways to teach children to read, how parents can measure a child's progress objectively, and much more. We urge you to read the complete interview on LD Talk.

"What does independent research show about using Reading Recovery for students who are having difficulty learning to read in first grade?"

Dr. Torgesen replies:

"Independent analyses show that Reading Recovery does not accomplish the goal of preventing reading difficulties in young children as effectively as its own 'in house' research show, nor does has Reading Recovery responded to research that has identified its weaknesses. 

Two of the most important independent research findings are that:

Reading Recovery could be more effective if it provided more explicit and systematic instruction in the alphabetic principle (phonics) (Iverson and Tunmer,1993) and

Small group instruction is just as effective as one-on-one instruction in preventing reading disabilities (Elbaum,Vaughn, Hughes, & Moody, 2000).

In an open letter about Reading Recovery that was signed by many, many independent reading researchers, two respected reading researchers from New Zealand included the following comments: 

"In New Zealand, where Reading Recovery was developed, the programme has been independently examined on two occasions. Both studies found shortcomings. In essence, the programme is failing to meet the claims regarding its objectives and success.

"Senior Reading Recovery administrators have also overtly blocked attempts by graduate students to independently examine aspects of Reading Recovery... 

"Despite strong evidence in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. that changes are needed to make Reading Recovery more effective, Reading Recovery leaders do not seem willing to incorporate the findings of such research to make the programme more effective.

"There is and has been considerable debate about the efficacy of Reading Recovery in New Zealand; this debate is indicative of an increasing dissatisfaction among researchers and some educators about the nature of the Reading Recovery programme. 

"Finally, the Ministry of Education commissioned a report from the 'Literacy Experts Group', released in 1999.

"Included in this report was a recommendation, unanimously agreed to by experts from the full spectrum of views on reading:

"We recommend that Reading Recovery place greater emphasis on explicit instruction in phonological awareness and the use of spelling-to-sound patterns in recognizing unfamiliar words in text." (emphasis added)

"This recommendation has not been adopted by Reading Recovery."

Related Information

Reading Recovery: What Do School Districts Get for Their Money? A Review of Research by Dr. Melissa Farrall  -
Reading Recovery is an early intervention program that has been acclaimed as an effective means to improve the reading skills of young children. How effective is Reading Recovery? What does the research on Reading Recovery show?

Experts Say Reading Recovery
Is Not Effective, Leaves Too Many Children Behind In an open letter, more than 30 international reading researchers express concerns about the continued use of Reading Recovery. These experts urge policy makers, educational leaders, researchers, and federal research organizations to acknowledge the weaknesses of Reading Recovery and conclude, "Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind."

Reading Recovery: Distinguishing Myth from Reality by William Tunmer and James Chapman -
Two reading experts describe serious shortcomings and needed improvements in the Reading Recovery program, and conclude: "Until such changes are made to Reading Recovery, we strongly recommend that schools do not adopt the program.

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