Catching kids who cannot read 


The 2007 student progress report for the multi-million dollar education intervention, the National Accelerated Literacy Program (NALP), has revealed new insights into the Northern Territory’s education system.

With 5,167 participating students in 58 NT Government schools by the end of 2007, NALP is the Territory’s most ambitious education intervention ever, both in its scale and scope.

Results in 2005 and 2006 were exciting, with students progressing at a rate more than one and a half times faster than expected. Literacy progress in 2007 was still promising, but it declined in comparison due to an enormous influx of students into the program who could not read at all on entry.

Last year, students were learning to read on average 1.18 reading levels per year, with the benchmark set at one. That was down from 1.74 reading levels per year in 2006 and 1.69 in 2005.

Director of Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research, which is evaluating NALP, Associate Professor Tess Lea, said that it was still important to acknowledge that 1.18 reading levels per year was still accelerated learning.

However, she added that the program was also bringing to light how many children in the Territory cannot read.

“As the program expands, we are beginning to confront the true extent of the deficit in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“We had about 2,000 students enter the program last year that could not read at all. The majority of them were five and six-year-olds, students you might expect to have emergent reading skills. But most alarming, more than 350 of these students were aged 12 and older.”

Professor Lea said she hoped the figures reflected a positive response to literacy program more than anything else.

“This might be a case of more schools putting struggling students into Accelerated Literacy classrooms, which is what we hope. Or more schools coming on board now that deal with more extreme education conditions,” she said.

“Either way, it goes to show that thousands of Territory students are desperately short of where they should be. They risk missing out on life opportunities because they have not acquired the foundational literacy skills in early childhood that are essential for students to read and write at advanced levels.”

Contrasting the average progress results was a staggering improvement in the number of students rapidly closing the gap. There were 1043 students progressing at one or more reading levels per year, a jump of 58 per cent compared to 2006.

“It goes to show we’re not dealing with kids that can’t be taught,” Dr Lea explained.

“In fact, it’s an amazing achievement when you consider the proportion of older non-readers that entered the program and the extremely high levels of teacher turnover in some schools.”

She stressed the real test would be whether Accelerated Literacy, combined with other teaching and learning strategies, will help the new batch of non-reading students achieve similar progress in coming years.

“Given the enormity of the task confronting us, it is essential that every opportunity is taken to improve Accelerated Literacy as a pedagogy, using advanced research and wisdom from the field,” she said.