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Testimony on the Final Report of the National Reading Panel by Duane Alexander, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
April 13, 2000
Mr. Chairman, I am Duane Alexander, Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. Thank you for convening this hearing as the forum for presentation to the Congress of the final report of the National Reading Panel.
In November of 1997 this committee, as part of its report on appropriations for Fiscal Year 1998 for the Department of Health and Human Services, asked me, as Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), to consult with the Secretary of Education and appoint a panel that would review the scientific literature reporting the results of research on how children learn to read and the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching reading. The Panel was to report to Congress its findings and its judgment as to what was so clearly effective from existing research evidence that it was ready for implementation in the classroom, and what still needed further research.
To fulfill this directive, staff of the NICHD and the Department of Education conducted a national solicitation for nominees for this National Reading Panel. From over 300 persons suggested, we eliminated from consideration those who had taken strong stands supporting or opposing any particular approaches to teaching reading, and anyone with financial interest in commercial reading instructional materials. From those persons remaining, as you directed, we selected 14 individuals, 13 of whom are here before you today. They represent scientists engaged in reading research, psychologists, education administrators, a pediatrician, a teacher, a principal, and a parent of a child who had experienced difficulty learning to read. To chair the panel, I appointed Dr. Donald Langenberg, a physicist by training, with no vested interest in reading instruction approaches other than in his role as Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which is involved in preparation of teachers to be effective in teaching reading. He skillfully led the Panel and will be presenting its report.
The Panel first met in April 1998. At that time I charged the Panel with answering the following questions:
- What is known about the basic process by which children learn to read?
- What are the most common instructional approaches in use in the United States to teach children to learn to read? What are the scientific underpinnings for each of these methodologic approaches, and what assessments have been done to validate their underlying scientific rationale? What conclusions about the scientific basis for these approaches does the Panel draw from these assessments?
- What assessments have been made of the effectiveness of each of these methodologies in actual use in helping children develop critical reading skills, and what conclusions does the Panel draw from these assessments?
- Based on answers to the preceding questions, what does the Panel conclude about the readiness for implementation in the classroom of these research results?
- How are teachers trained to teach children to read, and what do studies show about the effectiveness of this training? How can this knowledge be applied to improve this training?
- What practical findings from the Panel can be used immediately by parents, teachers, and other educational audiences to help children learn how to read, and how can conclusions of the Panel be disseminated most effectively?
- What important gaps remain in our knowledge of how children learn to read, the effectiveness of different instructional methods for teaching reading, and improving the preparation of teachers in reading instruction that could be addressed by additional research?
The Panel members took this charge seriously and went about their work conscientiously and with a high degree of professionalism. They broke new ground in their field in developing the methodology for critical review and analysis of research literature, and provided valuable service to the nation in preparing their report. I would like to thank the Panel members for their many hours of hard work in gathering and evaluating data and writing this report, and to thank also the graduate students, many of whom are here today, who worked with them on this project. I would also like to thank the staff of the Panel, particularly Dr. Bill Dommel, the Executive Director, who is not able to be here today, for the strong support they provided for the Panel.
The presentation today of the report of the Panel to you and to your House counterparts, as well as to Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, fulfills most, but not all, of our charge. You also asked us to plan to disseminate this report broadly. We plan not only to disseminate it but to work vigorously for its implementation. Panel members have agreed to assist with this effort, so some of their work will continue as well.
Mr. Chairman, I consider this report to be one of the most significant and important things I have been asked to do in my 14 years as Director of the NICHD. The significance of these findings for the well-being of our children and their families and teachers, and the implications for the future literacy of this nation and for the economic prosperity and global competitiveness of our people is enormous. Thank you for your wisdom and foresight in asking that this work be done, and for your confidence in assigning responsibility for carrying it out to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.