What Makes a Good Fourth-Grade Reader? Knowledge

Daniel Willingham, Britannica Blog, Jul 06, 2009
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This post refers to a new study (which is locked in a pay-per-view journal site, the real reason Britannica runs this piece) analyzing results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2006. These were comparative literacy studies conducted of grade 4 students in 2001 and 2006. Willingham writes, "Hong Kong ranked 14th among 35 participating countries in the 2001 administration of the test. In 2006, Hong Kong students ranked second among 44 nations." In case you are wondering, the top-rated country according to the report was Russia. Not only that, Russia climbed from 528 in 2001 - the same place as Hong Kong - all the way to 565, one better than Hong Kong (see page 7). Why not focus on Russia? Or maybe some other top-scoring jurisdictions, like Alberta and Ontario, Canada. That makes up your top four. But Willingham can't use that (or other countries, like Hungary, Luxembourg and Sweden, all of which fare better than the U.S.) as his sample, because they don't support his hypothesis. Quite the opposite. What unites these countries - and differentiates them from the U.S. and other lower scoring countries - is social and economic equity (see figure 6 on page 14 where this correlation is very clearly established).
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