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Retooling Literacy Education for the Twenty-First Century: Key Findings of the Reading for Understanding Initiative and Their Implications

John Sabatini, Tenaha O'Reilly, and Nancy A. Doorey

About This Report

In May 2016, an invitational symposium on the Reading for Understanding (RfU) initiative was held in Alexandria, VA. Co-hosted by ETS and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the symposium brought together some 160 state and local education leaders to examine the results of the Reading for Understanding Initiative. The goal of the Institute of Education Sciences-sponsored initiative was to accelerate the research on reading across grades preK-12. In 2010, five grant projects were awarded to focus on learning and instruction, and one project on assessment.

In this policy report, the authors begin by framing the need for a focused, national effort to achieve universal, advanced reading literacy, arguing that it is an issue of equity as well as individual and national prosperity.

The second portion presents a discussion of practical recommendations for lead practitioners, summarizing key insights from the RfU Research Initiative, remaining research challenges, and policy and practice recommendations for enhancing reading achievement across the educational developmental span from pre-K to secondary school graduation.

The presentations of the research teams and videos of concluding panel discussions from the symposium can be found here:

Two of the authors of this report (John Sabatini and Tenaha O'Reilly) were members of the RfU assessment project. While insiders in the RfU initiative, they were also outside observers of the other curricula and instruction-focused teams that were designing, implementing, and evaluating instructional programs in schools. This gave them a distinct perspective on how the research teams interacted with schools to develop content, support professional teacher development, and implement curriculum and instructional interventions.

We would like to give special thanks to the CCSSO and the many members of their State Collaboratives on Assessment and Student Standards who participated in the conference and provided valuable insights into the major themes of this report. In addition, the CCSSO advisory group of state leaders who reviewed this paper helped us focus it on issues of high importance to state and district leaders. Their expertise and extensive experience are greatly appreciated.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100005 to the Educational Testing Service as part of the Reading for Understanding Research (RfU) Initiative. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of Educational Testing Service, the institute, the U.S. Department of Education, or the CCSSO. We want to thank Anita Sands, Kelsey Dreier, and Larry Hanover for helpful comments and editorial assistance.