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Study Raises Questions About Reading Program in US

In schools using Reading First, researchers find more time being spent on skills, but without higher test scores on average. Also, a look at the book reading habits of students in American schools. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

A federal program in the United States called Reading First has received one billion dollars a year for the past several years. The money has gone to school systems to get them to use scientifically based ways to teach reading. The goal is to help all children read at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

The Bush administration's education law, the No Child Left Behind Act of Two Thousand One, established Reading First. Now, the Department of Education has released findings from a study of the program.

On average, teachers using it increased the time they taught reading skills like phonics and vocabulary. But the study also found, on average, little or no effect on test scores in reading comprehension.

Government researchers say they are not sure how to explain the results.

Critics call the program a failure and want Congress to end it. The program also came under attack after Education Department officials were accused of conflicts of interest with reading publishers.

Congress cut the billion-dollar budget by almost two-thirds this year. But federal officials want to continue the program. The study did find improvements in some cases.

The report examined the effects of Reading First grants in seventeen school districts across twelve states and one statewide program. The findings are for two thousand four to two thousand six. A final report with an additional year of research is expected early next year.

Another new report listed the books read most often last year by students in American schools. The Renaissance Learning company based the report on its reading programs used in many schools. Students read books and then take computer quizzes to see if they understood them. There are tests for more than one hundred fifteen thousand books.

The book read most often by first graders was "Green Eggs and Ham" by Doctor Seuss. In fourth grade the top book was, not surprisingly, "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" by Judy Blume.

Three of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books were among the top ten in grades nine through twelve. But the book read most often was "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. Others included John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer and "Holes" by Louis Sachar.

Also in the top ten were "Night" by Elie Wiesel, "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton and "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.