Tuesday, December 5, 2017


‘Research consistently shows that phonics ability does not influence scores on tests of comprehension,’ writes Stephen Krashen.
Published in the Guardian (letters, Thursday 7 December 2017)

England’s nine- and 10-year-olds showed a modest improvement on the 2016 Pirls (Progress in international reading literacy study) reading test, compared with 2011 scores (English pupils improve results in international reading exams, 6 December). Contrary to the assertion by school standards minister Nick Gibb, an increased emphasis on phonics does not deserve the credit. The Pirls test is a test of reading comprehension: students have to understand what they read. Research consistently shows that phonics ability does not influence scores on tests of comprehension. This is consistent with results showing high scores on phonics screening tests do not result in better reading several years later.
In our analyses of previous Pirls tests (2006 and 2011), the strongest predictors of achievement were level of poverty (negative) and the presence of a school library (positive). In our analysis of the 2006 results, amount of reading instruction was negatively related to scores; in the 2011 test, there was no relationship between amount of reading instruction and reading test scores.
Stephen Krashen
Professor emeritus, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Sources submitted with the letter, but not published in the Guardian.
Phonics & tests of reading comprehension: Garan, E. 2001. Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, 7: 500–506; Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37(4): 72–74. 

Predictors of PIRLS scores: Krashen, S., S. Y. Lee, and J. McQuillan. 2012. Is the library important? Multi-variate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education 8(1): 26–36; Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and Lao, C. 2017.  Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading.  Libraries Unlimited.

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