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20 Nov 2001

State Reform Policies and the Task for First-Grade Readers

Elfrieda H. Hiebert, University of Michigan

Journal Article

Hiebert, E.H. (2005). State reform policies and the task textbooks pose for first-grade readers. Elementary School Journal,105, 245-266. 

Paper was also presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.


Since the late 1980s, reading reform efforts in California and Texas have led to significant changes in reading textbook design. This paper examines whether these policy changes are supported by research. Because little research exists on what textbook characteristics support beginning readers, the paper begins with a review of trends in textbook design over the past 80 years and continues with an exploration of the cognitive and linguistic challenges that beginning readers face. The Text Elements by Task (TExT) model—a theoretical framework on the role of texts in beginning reading acquisition—is then introduced. This model was applied to current mainstream textbook programs and historical texts to discover the task each poses to beginning readers. The number of total and unique words, word repetition, and word characteristics in each text were analyzed.

The application of the model revealed a number of surprising trends. For example, 41% of the unique words in textbooks developed under Texas mandates are singletons—appear only once in a text. Furthermore, the historical analysis showed that between 1962 and 1993, the number of unique words and singletons and their pace of introduction have increased dramatically, while the amount of word repetition has been curtailed. The paper draws a number of provocative conclusions from these data, including the observation that children entering first grade are now expected to acquire new words at the same pace as exiting second graders.