Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live
As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and READ 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. At my middle school we have one pilot teacher for each program. Training has been extensive from these two eager publishers because our district, Elk Grove Unified, is the third largest district in California and a district-wide adoption would be quite a plum for either of the two companies.
I am not one of the pilot teachers; however, I am curious. So now my DISCLAIMER: I sell my own reading intervention program: Teaching Reading Strategies with the Sam and Friends Phonics Books and Reading and Spelling Game Cards. I developed the program in three instructional settings: grades 4−6 as a district elementary specialist; middle school as a “support” teacher; and high school as a co-teacher of a remedial reading class with a special education teacher.
As my colleagues have been piloting, I’ve been able to log-in as a student and check out these two programs to compare to my own. A bold move given that my cost per class of 25 students is about $15 per student, whereas the cost per class for each of the two comparative programs is closer to that of a well-equipped Lexus. But, you get what you pay for… right? Well, you do get a lot of bells and whistles.
I’ll begin with the screening and placement assessments for the programs. First I’ll start with the READ 180 program. This article will begin to tackle just one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The other assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. As a reading specialist, I always gravitate to phonemic awareness, decoding, and encoding materials, so I’ll start there.
My first ah, ha was the lack of a spelling test as part of the screening and placement assessments. The Language!® program has one; my program has one. What gives?
I will say from my own 25+ years of teaching remedial reading that a student’s ability to encode (spell) certainly has helped me properly place students in instructional programs to target their individual needs. I would go as far as saying that a spelling test (Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test, the Qualitative Spelling Inventory developed by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, and Johnson (2000), or my own comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment) provides essential information for program placement.
I did a little digging to see if a spelling assessment was part of the READ 180 companion program for beginning readers: SYSTEM 44. Nope. The Scholastic Phonics Inventory® has letter name recognition, sight word recognition, and nonword decoding, but there is no accompanying spelling test.
I decided to email the assessment author, Dr. Richard K. Wagner, and Rick kindly replied twice to my questions. Not to put words into his mouth, but I seemed to get support for my view that using spelling as a screening assessment makes sense.
Now READ 180 does provide individualized assessment and spelling instruction as part of its program, but not as part of its screening and placement. I will give my take (Spoiler Alert: It’s not the best Yelp review) on this spelling “instruction” in a related article.
But why use screening and placement assessments solely to determine whether students qualify for some form of tiered reading intervention? In other words why waste time giving separate placement and diagnostic assessments? Why give a test that provides nothing to teach to?
My Teaching Reading Strategies program uses 3 of its 13 diagnostic assessments (fluency, phonics, and spelling) to both place and provide comprehensive data to inform instruction. For example, the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment includes 102 assessment items with an accompanying audio file to handle the 23 minute test administration. Each of the 102 spelling pattern test items has a corresponding worksheet to help students master each of their deficit spelling patterns. Students complete spelling sorts, rhymes, word jumbles, and brief book searches. After completing each worksheet, the students self-correct to learn from their own mistakes and complete a short formative assessment. Now that’s a placement assessment that gives you something to teach.
In successive articles I will continue my comparative analysis of the other screening and placement assessment components in the READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live programs, as well as my shameful self-promotion of Teaching Reading Strategies.
Mark Pennington is the author of the Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.