With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Reading First initiative, there are five areas of reading instruction that are getting special attention — Reading Comprehension, Phonics, Phoneme Awareness, Fluency, and Vocabulary. The reason these five areas are getting special attention stems from the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) which came out in 2001. The NRP was charged with critically examining the research related to reading instructional practice to determine what practices were most effective for helping all children learn to read well.
The panel unfortunately was given a very limited amount of time and resources to accomplish this Herculean task. Fourteen people were given one year to critically examine over 100,000 research studies and publish a synthesis of their findings.
That simply was not possible.
The panel decided to prioritize their search of the research literature, focusing on the areas that were considered central to learning to read. The panel decided to focus on Alphabetics (subdivided into two areas: Phoneme Awareness and Phonics instruction), Fluency, Comprehension (subdivided into three areas, Vocabulary, Text Comprehension, and Teacher Preparation in Comprehension instruction), Teacher Education, and Computer Technology.
The panel did not neglect other areas of reading because they felt they were not important. Quite the contrary, the panel debated and discussed dozens of possible topic areas. They restricted their examination of the research literature to these areas only because it would be impossible to critically examine research in all relevant areas of reading instruction and reading acquisition. Important areas such as second language learning influences, background knowledge, text variables, and motivation were not examined simply because it would have been impossible to do so given the resources available.
After the report of the findings of the National Reading Panel, five of the areas that were critically examined were surfaced in both the media and in policy and legislation as the “five big areas of reading.” The No Child Left Behind legislation and the Reading First initiative highlighted these five areas, and explicitly mandated that they be a central part of any reading initiative being funded with federal money. Further, policy and legislation clearly indicated that these five areas of reading should be assessed regularly, and that the success or failure of any reading initiative would depend upon measurement of children’s growth in these five areas.
The emphasis that has been placed on these five areas of reading instruction is substantial, and all educators should become very familiar with all five of the areas, and should make sure that children are given adequate instruction in these areas, and that children are regularly assessed in each of these five areas.
To help with assessment, we are providing a free, downloadable assessment that can be used for testing four of the five areas. The Abecedarian assessment contains subtests that test Vocabulary, Phoneme Awareness, Decoding Fluency, and letter-sound knowledge (a.k.a. Phonics) measured through regular word decoding.