A Brief History of Reading First

In 1997, Congress approved the creation of a National Reading Panel (NRP) to initiate a national, comprehensive, research-based effort on alternative instructional approaches to reading instruction and to guide the development of public policy on literacy instruction (Ramírez, 2001).

Before it began its analysis of the research, the NRP reviewed the findings of a National Research Council (NRC) report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), which had designated three topic areas central to learning to read: Alphabetics, Fluency, and Comprehension. After public hearings and discussion, the panel decided to focus on the following topics and subtopics for intensive study:

  • Alphabetics
    • Phonemic Awareness
    • Phonics Instruction
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension
    • Vocabulary Instruction
    • Text Comprehension Instruction
    • Teacher Preparation and Comprehension Strategies Instruction (NICHD, 2000a)

Incidentally, the NRP did not examine research studies related to second language learning and reading, nor did it address issues relevant to this topic, as a new research initiative conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the Department of Education is underway (NICHD, 2000a).

In April 2000, the NRP published its findings and recommendations in each of the topic and subtopic areas, in the form of the Report of the National Reading Panel: Report of the Subgroups. It is from this NRP report that the Reading First legislation within Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was formulated.

Reading First mandates that schools be held accountable for ensuring that all students read by third grade. It reinforces this mandate through funding of "scientific, research-based reading programs," which are defined as programs that include the essential components of reading instruction. Section 1208 (3) of Title I states, "The term 'essential components of reading instruction' means explicit and systematic instruction in –

  1. phonemic awareness;
  2. phonics;
  3. vocabulary development;
  4. reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and
  5. reading comprehension strategies."

Thus, these two congressionally-mandated initiatives, the NRP report and Reading First, have aimed to quell the debate about what works in reading instruction and set into place a national reading policy.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

August, D., Hakuta, K. (1997). Improving schooling for language-minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read. The Partnership for Reading: National Institute for Literacy; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and U.S. Department of Education.

Clay, M. (1993). Reading Recovery in English and other languages. Keynote address presented at the West Coast Literacy Conference, Palm Springs, CA.

Collier,V. & Thomas, W. (1992). A synthesis of studies examining long-term language minority student data on academic achievement. Bilingual Research Journal, 16(1-2), 187-212.

Cummins, J. (1989). Empowering minority students. Sacramento, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education.

Cummins, J. (1992). Language proficiency, bilingualism, and academic achievement. In P. A. Richard-Amato and M. A. Snow (Eds.), The multicultural classroom: Readings for content-area teachers. White Plains: Longman.

Escamilla, K. (1987). The relationship of native language reading achievement and oral English proficiency to future achievement in reading English as a second language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Univer-sity of California, Los Angeles.

Hiebert, E. H., Pearson, P.D., Taylor, B.M., Richardson, V., Paris, S.G. (1998). Every child a reader: Applying reading research to the classroom. Center for the Improvement of Earl Reading Achievement. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan School of Education.

International Reading Association. (2001). Summary of the National Reading Panel Report, "Teaching Children to Read." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Reading Association, Washington, DC, July 2001.

Moats, L.C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science: What expert teachers of reading should know and be able to do. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (2002). Survey of the states' limited English proficient students and available educational programs and services, 1999-2001. Washington, DC: NCBE.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000a). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Govern-ment Printing Office.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2000b). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

National Reading Panel (2001). "Frequently asked questions." [Online]. Available: http:// www.nationalreadingpanel.org/faq/faq.htm

New York State Education Department, Office of Bilingual Education. (2000). The teaching of language arts to limited English proficient/English language learners: A resource guide for all teachers. Albany, NY: Author.

Peregoy, S. F. & Boyle, O. F. (2000). English learners reading English: What we know, what we need to know. Theory into practice, 39(4), 237-247.

Ram'rez, J.D. (2001). Bilingualism and literacy: Problem or opportunity? A synthesis of reading research on bilingual students. A Research Symposium on High Standards in Reading for Students in Diverse Language Groups: Research, Policy, and Practice. Washington, D.C.: Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, U.S. Department of Education.

Rodr'guez, A. (1988). Research in reading and writing in bilingual education and English as a second language. In A. Ambert (Ed.), Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language. New York: Garland Pub.

Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

U.S. Congress, No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110), 2001.

Beth Antunez (2002)


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