More SMH Bashing

I read an interesting article in the SMH a few days ago about a technique for preparing children to learn to read by increasing their ‘phonemic awareness’.

The first thing I think when I read about any innovation is “does it really work?” — the evidence was addressed by a single paragraph:

After 13 weeks of the program, 5 per cent of children improved in language tests administered by the foundation workers and the teachers. The number of three-year-olds who passed the tests after the program doubled.

Which tells us very little. Is that 5 per cent figure net of the children who did worse? Or is it gross? Why is the three year old improvement stated differently? Did the journalist just feel that it read better to avoid a similar turn of phrase, or did the educator phrase it that way for some reason? Obviously it makes a difference whether the 3 year old pass rate increased from 1% to 2% or 50% to 100%. Most importantly — as 13 weeks is a long time in a child’s life, especially a three year old — you would expect improvements no matter what. A trial with a control group, and blind administration of the tests would make the figures much more convincing.

No doubt there is better evidence available, as “other preschools in the area are clamouring for the program”, so it’s a shame that the journalist couldn’t have presented that evidence in their article.

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