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Professor James Chapman


Reading Recovery not the solution

The Labour Party’s pledge to provide Reading Recovery in all schools is no quick fix to New Zealand’s unsatisfactory levels of literacy, says an education expert.

Labour leader David Shearer revealed the party’s new education policies yesterday, which included rolling out Reading Recovery to every school in the country – currently only two out of three schools offer the New Zealand-developed scheme.  

Massey University College of Education Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor James Chapman says children’s literacy standards are a concern but Reading Recovery is not the solution, and there are more effective approaches.

“The Labour leader is to be commended for showing determination to do something about the unsatisfactory levels of literacy, especially among Maori and Pasifika children,” Professor Chapman says. “But he is seriously misguided if he thinks Reading Recovery is the solution.

“Mr Shearer claims Reading Recovery is the ‘gold standard intervention’ and that it is a ‘proven success’. Neither claim is true. New Zealand research shows that at best, children who make some progress as a result of Reading Recovery tend to lose the gains after a few years. At worst, our longitudinal study at Massey University showed that children who were said to be successful in Reading Recovery were still, on average, one year behind their same age peers 12 months after completing the programme.

“Studies in Australia and the United States confirm the view that claims made about the effectiveness of Reading Recovery are often exaggerated.”

Professor Chapman says Reading Recovery is an expensive programme, of limited benefit for the vast majority of children who need support, and the programme has not kept up with contemporary scientific research on reading. “There are more effective approaches to assisting children who struggle with learning to read during the first couple of years in school. I encourage the Labour leader’s advisers to become fully aware of the very limited success of Reading Recovery and to know that there are more effective alternatives.”

Professor Chapman says it is important to understand that Reading Recovery was conceived during the 1960s and 1970s, and introduced into New Zealand schools during the 1980s. Research has moved on from when this programme was developed but the basic approach of the programme is much the same.

“If the Reading Recovery programme had been successful then literacy achievement among New Zealand children would have improved, not declined over the years. New Zealand's international literacy ranking for children has declined since Reading Recovery was introduced and the long tail of poor achievement remains.”

Professor Chapman says research shows working in pairs and small groups can be effective and interventions don’t have to be one-on-one. He adds children who are likely to struggle with learning to read can be identified when they start school so working with children during Year 1 is a better alternative.

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