Study to focus on comprehension

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Ohio State University researchers will head a five-year, $20 million study to help children who struggle to read.

One of the largest-ever federal grants for the university, it is being funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Federally funded studies often are influential and used to guide teaching. The goal of this research is to find the best ways to help children who struggle to understand what they read so that teachers can immediately start using those methods.

For several years, reading research has been focused mostly on decoding, or being able to correctly pronounce written words, said Laura Justice, the professor who is overseeing Ohio State's research.

"But we really don't know a lot about comprehension," she said. The federal government "is trying to solve reading comprehension in five years with a massive investment instead of with incremental growth."

Universities had to apply and be selected to win a grant. Four other universities and a test development company also won five-year grants through the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, bringing the total federal investment to $100 million.

Grants were announced last month.

"It's not enough to teach students how to read," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "We need to teach students to understand what they're reading. This project will bring together the best minds in the country -- from researchers working in collaboration with practitioners -- to find solutions.

The studies will focus on reading comprehension through 12th grade, said Elizabeth Albro, an associate commissioner with the National Center on Education Research, part of the Institute of Education Science. Ohio State will study pre-kindergarten through third-grade students.

"The goal is to get what we're learning into the hands of practitioners," Albro said.

Five or six Ohio State researchers will work on the three-pronged initiative, Justice said.

Some will follow 1,200 students for five years, starting with pre-kindergarten, to learn how their language skills affect their ability to understand what they read.

Researchers also will develop two reading-intervention methods for 500 students and their teachers, and then test their effectiveness.

Work is to begin this month. Justice said the university wants to partner with local school districts for the study.