January 7, 2010





            This paper presents the proposal to explore the relationship between the Reading First Program and student achievement. Reading First has been around even since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind policy in 2001. The focus of the program is to improve reading instruction for children all over America, aiming to uplift the literacy rate in the country (United States Department of Education, 2004). Research shows that the Reading First program is an effective and powerful tool to improve reading among first grade students and low performing second to third grade students (Schrenko, 2001). However, it is not yet explored whether it also affects high performing second to third grade students (Schrenko, 2001).


            The aim of this paper is to explore how Reading First instructions affect student achievement in reading. Specifically, it explores how Reading First improves the fluency and phonemic awareness of the American students. The reason why this topic was chosen is to explore further the effectiveness of the Reading First program, to be able to have data that can be comparable with other Reading First investigation. Reading First investigations in the past tend to focus on its implementation on specific states. This still leaves the program as a research potential since many state implementations are still unexplored. This paper presents the problem and background of the research as well as the methods and procedures to be used.




            The researcher is prepared for this topic because of her background in education and basic knowledge about different reading programs for children. As one of the people who has dedicated time on the understanding of education programs, my expertise in this field which I have learned from my previous academic endeavors can contribute greatly to the progress of the study. Previous lessons in academics informed me about the different approach on children, with the addition of different social science topics. This knowledge can help me conduct the study with ease and familiarity.








            The Reading First program was implemented to improve the literacy of children in the United States, specifically in reading. Reading is an important basic skill that every child must acquire early on in their academic careers as this will greatly help them in the future challenges they will encounter in the future. As mentioned by the Center for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement or CIERA (2003), too many children struggle with learning to read in today's schools. Learning to read can be considered as a difficult task for those who are unfamiliar with it because it scopes many learning areas such as: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension (CIERA, 2003). Not only that, this also involves the interaction between two or more individuals including the teachers and the students. The task of the teacher is to teach and to ensure that their students absorb what they teach. On the other hand, students should be able to comprehend the instructions well and perform as expected. The Reading First program promises improvement in this interaction as it focuses more on the instructions that the teachers use, which should target improvements in: phonemic awareness; phonics; vocabulary development; reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and reading comprehension strategies. However, while it has many promises, Reading First can still be considered as an unexplored subject in terms of effectiveness on truly improving the reading skills of the students. There are few studies, but the findings of those should still be confirmed by new ones. Thus, there is still a need to gather data specifically about its contribution to student achievements. Student achievement may be broad in its sense but for this study, an improvement in one area of studies is considered as an achievement. This means that it should prove that children who underwent with the Reading First program should have at least one subject they excelled into, preferably related to reading. By this, previous grades of the students before undergoing the program should be dug first, then to be compared with their grades when they finished the program.





            For the purpose of being specific and to avoid ambiguity, this study focuses only on a particular academic level. The focus is on First Grade students because they are the ones who initially receive the Reading First program. The direct target of the study is the developers of Reading First, to give them evidence of the effectiveness of their program. It also targets First Grade teachers as they are the ones who deliver the program, and thus they have great influence over its effectiveness. It is safe to say that the effectiveness of such programs does not depend on its design alone, but also on the delivery of the teachers on its instructions and their emphasis on important points that are important in reading. Suffice to say, the results of the study will not only directly reflect the effectiveness of the program but also the effectiveness of its delivery by the teachers.


Social Relevance



            The study may help discover the effectiveness of Reading First and may promote its further improvement. The social relevance of the study is that it will confirm an effectiveness of a specific program, which may help influence its direct or indirect acceptance by schools across the country. Even though it is already considered a law to implement the Reading First, the findings of this study may convince those who are still 'unconvinced' about its effectiveness. This may promote Reading First as an effective program that should be taken seriously by all schools. On the other hand, if ever proven ineffective, it may influence the drive to recommend strategies on how it can be improved. Either way, the study will have great social relevance regardless of the results. It may reflect the strategic implications of Reading First as a tool to improve the reading skills of American children.



            The Reading First program came with the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001", which focus on strengthening the academic achievements of students. It aims to improve children's education by providing young children, particularly children from low-income families, with pre-reading skills.

The US Department of Education (2004) presents the following overview of Reading First: it is a focused nationwide effort to enable all students to become successful early readers; funds are dedicated to help states and local school districts eliminate the reading deficit by establishing high-quality, comprehensive reading instruction in kindergarten through grade 3; and through research, the program is designed to select, implement, and provide professional development for teachers using scientifically based reading programs, and to ensure accountability through ongoing, valid and reliable screening, diagnostic, and classroom-based assessment (http://www.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/).

Reading First replaced the Reading Excellence Act. The National Reading Panel (NRP) played a huge role in its development because it is the one who analyzed results of previous studies about reading strategies and reading difficulties of children (Ramirez, 2001). Their analysis on the findings of Snowe et al (1998), led to the focus of the group on the following areas: alphabetics (phonemic awareness, phonics instruction); fluency; comprehension (vocabulary Instruction, text comprehension instruction), and; teacher preparation and comprehension strategies instruction.  

In April 2000, the NRP published its findings and recommendations in each of the topic and subtopic areas, in the form of the Report of the National Reading Panel: Report of the Subgroups (Antunez, 2002). It is from this NRP report that the Reading First legislation within Title I of the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" was formulated (Antunez, 2002).


In the Reading First program, all schools are held accountable to ensuring that all students know how to read by third grade (Antunez, 2002). It promotes explicit and systematic instruction in: phonemic awareness; phonics; vocabulary development; reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and reading comprehension strategies" (Kauerz, 2002; Antunez, 2002).

The essential components of reading instructions are important in the development of the Reading First program. Phonetic awareness refers to the ability to hear, manipulate and identify individual sounds called phoneme in a spoken word (Kauerz, 2002). Phonics is the understanding that there is predictable relationship between phonemes and graphemes, the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in the written language (Kauerz, 2002). Vocabulary development is the development of stored information about meanings and pronunciation of words necessary for communication (Kauerz, 2002). Reading fluency means the ability to read text accurately and quickly, providing a bridge between word recognition and comprehension (Kauerz, 2002). Finally, reading comprehension strategies refer to the ability to understand, remember and communicate with other about what has been read (Kauerz, 2002). These components are basically important points to remember when analyzing the effectiveness of the program as it promises to improve the reading abilities of children specifically in those areas.

The Reading First is said to be a scientifically-based program – or a program that is not a fad, but instead, scientifically proven by research – that is the instructions provided by the program (NCLB, 2002). The program has its own experts review panel that is readily available to provide scientific evidences about the instructions it presents (NCLB, 2002).

A particular study in Georgia that measures the effectiveness of Reading First shows positive results about the program (Schrenko, 2001). Data was acquired from test results such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, Stanford 9, and Criterion Reference Competency Score (Schrenko, 2001). They also surveyed 7000 teachers and 3000 parents with the purpose to uncover differences and similarities in instructional practices, teaching philosophies, and parental involvement between the two groups (Schrenko, 2001). The study found that the program benefits first grade students and low achieving second grade and third grade students. In terms of teaching philosophy, participants share a view that: "reading is the foundation of all learning and should be the focus of instruction in the primary grades". Teachers also admit that their schools implements Reading First because of the funds that the government provides. Others reason that it provides a solid foundation for reading in the primary grades. Most are also satisfied with the program and defends its importance in helping students to learn other complex subjects. Teachers also stressed the importance and need for parent involvement to make the program more effective (Schrenko, 2001). These findings show that the program is not a stand-alone in terms of effectiveness, but is also affected by several factors such as participation of teachers and parent involvement.


The improvement of students in phonemics is one of the components that Reading First focuses. Phonemes are defined as the smallest unit of sound in a language that makes a difference in word meaning (Torgesen and Mathes, 2003). Phonemes are represented by letters in print, thus learning to read requires that children to become consciously aware of phonemes as individual segments in words (Torgesen and Mathes, 2003). Phonological or phonemic awareness is important in learning to read because it makes comprehension of printed materials easier as it helps children understand alphabetic principles (Torgesen and Mathes, 2003). It also helps children notice the regular ways the letters represent sound in words. Early phonemic awareness also makes it possible to generate possibilities for words in context that are partially sounded out (Torgesen and Mathes, 2003). Research shows that children with weak phonological awareness are two grade-level below their peers in term of reading (Torgesen and Mathes, 2003).

Reasons for Low Reading Skills

            Beneventi et al (2002) identified several reasons why a kindergarten to second grade student may have low reading skill. The reasons include: children may not have exposure to life's experiences and the access to books necessary due to low socio-economic conditions; and the lack of sufficient teacher preparation and the lack of knowledge on how to adapt teaching strategies to individual students' learning styles. Almost similarly, Barsema et al (2002) found that the reasons for poor reading skills are: insufficient reading practice; poor fluency; choosing inappropriate reading materials; lack of motivation; disengagement with text; and poor modelling.

On the other hand, the effective strategies that were found to increase reading skills include the teacher giving focus on phonemic awareness strategies, modelled activities to improve reading fluency, activities on writing, exposing the students on various literatures, and providing an environment that is conductive to all learning styles (Beneventi et al, 2002). Barsema et al (2002) also mentioned the following methods: implementation of accelerated reading program; increased sustained silent reading time; development of buddy reading system; and the establishment of home-to-school reading program.

The problems and strategies confirmed in this study somehow relates with the aim of the Reading First. Because it is within the No Child Left Behind Act 2001, it means that it can reach even those who have low-socioeconomic background. However, as mentioned, its effectiveness may still depend on the ability of the teachers to deliver the instructions.


            The aim of the study is to explore the effectiveness of the Reading First program on student achievement, specifically its effect on improving the phonemic awareness and reading fluency of the student. It aims to look for relationships among those variables by conducting a test assessment on students and surveying teachers and parents. Below are the objectives of the study:

1.                  To conduct a literature review about the different studies conducted for Reading First.

2.                  To develop an assessment test on reading and test the students of their reading skill levels.

3.                  To develop a structured questionnaire to survey teachers and parents about the effectiveness of Reading First on student achievements.

4.                  To compare previous academic grades of students with recent academic grades of students under the Reading First program.

5.                  To provide an unbiased conclusion and provide insightful recommendation about the subject matter.


            The study will try to answer the following research questions:

1.                  How does the use of Reading First instructional strategies effect student achievement in reading?

2.                  Does the implementation of Reading First strategies yield an increase in student achievement in fluency?

3.                   Does the implementation of Reading First strategies yield and increase in student achievement in phonemic awareness?

4.                  Do Reading First strategies have significant relationship with student achievement?


          The study is noteworthy to conduct because it will help determine the effectiveness of Reading First. These findings that will be collated from the respondents of the study can be compared with previous findings from recent studies. This may draw the consensus on the program's effectiveness and may influence other state to fully accelerate the potential of the program.

            The study may also serve as a useful reference tool for future studies. Future research related to this topic may find valuable findings in this study that may help them explain their topic better. This study may also open up possible issues that may be potential research topics.

            The education, the schools, the students and the parents themselves may also be significantly affected by the study as it will provide confirmations, even in small ways, about the effectiveness of Reading First on student achievement.



            The study will be explanatory in nature as it will apply triangulation method to give the best possible conclusion for the topic. The aim is to determine relationships between two causal variables, which are Reading First program and student achievement. Thus, the research will be deductive as it aims to deduce or test a particular hypothesis. The hypothesis here is: "Reading First program and student achievement have a positive significant relationship". This hypothesis is based on previous findings and claims that Reading First is the most advanced strategy to improve the reading skills of primary grade students. The research will also be positivistic, as it scientifically explores causal relationships between two variables. The independent variable in the study is the Reading First, while the dependent variable is student achievement.




            Primary and secondary data will be used in the study.

            For primary data, 200 teachers and 100 parents will be surveyed about the effectiveness of Reading First program. Furthermore, 200 first grade students will be contracted to participate in an assessment test on reading developed by the researcher.

            On the other hand, secondary data will be acquired from literatures, mainly from written publications such as books and internet journals. The grades of the students before Reading First and students after Reading First will also be considered as secondary data of the study. They will serve as a tool for the analysis of the primary data.


            The data collection will be conducted in two ways: the assessment test; and the survey questionnaires.

            For the assessment test, two variables will be assessed, namely: phonological awareness; and fluency. One of assessment tools that will be used for both variables is sound comparison. For this assessment test, the students will undergo audio-recorded pronunciation sessions. The sound that they make out of the phonemes and the fluency of their language will be assessed. Another assessment test that will be used is identification of reading skills using observations in class. This will identify how students use their reading skills in classroom situations.

On the other hand, the survey questionnaire will focus more on the views and opinions of the teachers and the parents. The teachers and the parents will be important in this study because they are the ones who often interact and observe the progress of the students. Their views can be of great importance in determining the positive relationship between Reading First program and student achievement. For this data collection, a structured questionnaire will be developed. The questionnaire will contain mainly of items that ask teachers and parents the progress of their students or child in reading upon the implementation of the Reading First program. In this questionnaire, a 5-point Likert Scale will be used. In the Likert technique, the degree of agreement or disagreement) is given a numerical value ranging from one to five, thus a total numerical value can be calculated from all the responses. (Underwood, 2004) The equivalent weights for the answers will be:

Range                                                            Interpretation

            4.50 – 5.00                                                    Strongly Disagree

            3.50 – 4.00                                                    Disagree

            2.50 – 3.49                                                    Uncertain

            1.50 – 2.49                                                    Agree  

            0.00 – 1.49                                                    Strongly Agree

Data Analysis

Data will be analyzed using the frequency analysis. The following will be the formula:

Percentage – will be used to determine the magnitude of the responses.


% = -------- x 100        ;           n – number of responses

            N                                 N – total number of respondents

1.       Weighted Mean

            f1x1 + f2x2  + f3x3 + f4x4  + f5x5

x = ---------------------------------------------  ;


where:             f – weight given to each response

                        x – number of responses

                        xt – total number of responses






Antunez, B. (2002). A Brief History of Reading First (online). Available at: http://www.readingrockets.org/articles/309 [Accessed: 02/08/06].


CIERA (2003). Put Reading First. The Research Building Blocks of Reading Instruction. National Institute for Literacy. Jessup MD.


Barsema M., Harmes, L., and Pogue, C. (2002). Improving Reading Achievement through the Use of Multiple Reading Strategies. Saint Xavier University and Sky-light Field Based Masters Program, Chicago, IL.


Beneventi, A., McEndollar, L. and Smith, D. (2002). Improving the Development of Students' Reading Skills. Saint Xavier University and Sky-light Field Based Masters Program, Chicago, IL.


Kauerz, K. (2002). Literacy. No Child Left Behind Policy Brief. Education Commission of the States. Denver, CO.


No Child Left Behind (2002). The Facts About… Reading First. No Child Left Behind ED Pubs. Jessup, MD.


Schrenko, L.C. (2001). Evaluation of Reading First Program. Final Report. Georgia State Department of Education.


Snow, C., Burns, S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Ramirez, J.D. (2001). Bilingualism and literacy: Problem or opportunity? A synthesis of reading research on bilingual students. A Research Symposium on High Standards in Reading for Students in Diverse Language Groups: Research, Policy, and Practice. Washington, D.C.: Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, U.S. Department of Education.


Torgesen, J.K. and Mathes, P.G. (2002). Assessment and Instruction in Phonological Awareness. Florida State Department of Education.


Underwood, M. (2004). The Likert Scale. In Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies (CMMS) Infobase. Available at: [www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/index.html]. Accessed: [02/08/06].




US Department of Education (2004). Reading First. (online). Available at:

http://www.ed.gov/programs/readingfirst/index.html [Accessed: 02/08/06].


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