What Is Scientifically Based Reading Research?

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Scientifically based reading research applies the scientific method to learn about about how young children develop reading skills, how children can be taught to read, and how children can overcome reading difficulties. Discover the basic elements to look for in science-based reading research.

Some federal programs may have a specific statutory or regulatory definition of this term. In general, scientifically based reading research includes concepts such as those below.

Scientifically based reading research uses scientific procedures to obtain knowledge about how young children develop reading skills, how children can be taught to read, and how children can overcome reading difficulties. Scientifically based reading research has the following characteristics:

It uses clear, step-by-step methods of gathering data. These methods involve careful observations and measurements. Often, experiments are used to gather information. For example, an experiment may compare how well children learn to read when they are taught in different ways.

It uses established, acceptable ways of measuring and observing. Let’s say a researcher is trying to find which type of instruction best helps children learn the meaning of new words. The researcher must decide how to measure the children’s word learning. Should the children just be asked whether they know the word? Should they be able to recognize the correct definition among several choices? Or, should they be able to use the new word correctly in their writing? The way the researcher chooses to measure word learning must be acceptable to other researchers as a good, or valid, measure of word learning.

It requires that researchers use established, acceptable ways of making sense of, or interpreting, the data they gather. Researchers must show that the conclusions they reach follow logically from the data they collected. Other researchers must be able to draw the same or similar conclusions from the data, and similar experiments must produce similar data.

It requires that several other researchers have carefully reviewed the report of the research. The report must include enough specific information about the research so that other researchers could repeat the research and verify the findings. These expert reviewers must agree that the research was done carefully and correctly and that the conclusions follow from the data. Usually, scientifically based reading research is published in professional journals and presented at professional meetings so that other researchers can learn from the work.

Scientifically based reading research provides the best available information about how you can help prepare the young children in your care for learning to read in school.

This article is excerpted from Teaching Our Youngest: A Guide for Preschool Teachers and Child Care and Family Providers, published by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2002)

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"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." — Groucho Marx