In the spring of 2022, reports showed that only 67 percent of third graders were reading at grade level in the aftermath of the pandemic. Following on the heels of the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, the U.S. now witnesses the largest decline in reading outcomes since 1980. Children from underserved communities have lost as much as half a year of traditional normal reading progress. Learning loss has become a well-worn term for an international crisis prompting governments to seek ways to accelerate learning.

This context has ignited a major reckoning with educational policy and methods. As it turns out, reading scores were not impressive even before the pandemic. According to the 2019 NAEP scores, just 34 percent of students were proficient at reading. By “proficient,” these scores suggest that students can only not just sound out a word, but also gain meaning from text. This low starting point pre-pandemic is the real problem. Someone, something, must be to blame.  According to a recent New York Times article and a widely heard podcast, “Sold a Story,” Professor Lucy Calkins of Columbia University seems to be descending to that mantle.

Professor Calkin’s balance reading curriculum was used in more than a quarter of U.S. schools. It focused on three cues that students needed to follow to become readers: semantics (is the word meaningful?), syntax (does the word fit grammatically?), and grapho-phonic (can you guess the sound from its first letter?). The bottom line is that this curriculum falls short. As “Sold a Story reveals, balanced reading was an offspring of Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery program developed in New Zealand and used around the world. A report issued in April of 2022 noted that third and fourth graders who used reading recovery methods were behind those who did not use the program. Culprit revealed.

Read the full article about reading science and policy by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff at Brookings.