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A Study of Reading Practices, Instruction, and Achievement in
District 31 Schools

Mary Foertsch
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
Oak Brook, Illinois


This study was conducted in response to a request from West Northfield District 31 in Illinois to investigate why the reading test scores of students were lower than expected and did not necessarily match teachers' perceptions of students' reading ability. Related to this issue is the extent to which there is alignment among reading assessments, the district's curriculum, and reading instruction.

This research study involved multiple sources of data: (1) classroom observations for the purpose of gathering qualitative information about reading practices and instruction, (2) a teacher/staff questionnaire to gather quantitative data on teachers' self-reported instructional strategies and areas of emphasis, (3) group interviews to gather qualitative information concerning the successes and challenges of the current reading program, (4) individual teacher interviews to gather in-depth information on teachers' views of reading, (5) a match between reading/language arts/humanities curricula and state standards, and (6) analyses of Illinois Goal Assessment Program (IGAP) and Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) test scores for the purpose of gathering quantitative information on student achievement in reading.

Areas of major concern identified by District 31 staff included: (a) context factors and their relationship to instruction (e.g., school setting and student population factors); (b) instructional practices (with a focus on materials and procedures); and (c) teacher beliefs about reading instruction (including program goals, perceptions of strengths and weaknesses, and impact on students' ability to read).

We found variability from teacher to teacher in terms of individual philosophies of reading and reading instruction. Within each of the two schools in this study, wide variation was found among teachers. There was also confusion about the district's position on reading instruction. It is also the case that individual teachers have little control over certain district policies that influence instruction, such as the scheduling of time for teachers to plan together and the amount of communication and planning with special teachers.

Based on teacher self-report data, from both the survey and interviews, as well as our classroom observations, we also saw evidence that the program had positive effects on students. The strongest effects seem to be in the areas of perceived increases in students' motivation attitudes, and independent reading as a result of the exposure to higher quality literature. The teacher self-report data on student reading ability was more difficult to interpret. One of the comments that kept surfacing during interviews was that students were no more skilled as readers than before the current program was implemented. However, students seemed to be more willing to seek out books for their own reading.

Note: The entire document is available online in PDF format (requires Adobe Acrobat software) and in a web version.
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