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The panel searched the literature to locate experimental studies that administered

systematic phonics instruction to one group of children and administered another type of

instruction involving either unsystematic phonics or no phonics to a control group.

Reviews were limited to experiments because these provide the strongest evidence that

instruction rather than some other factor caused the improvement in reading. Studies had

to examine phonics programs of the sort used in schools rather than used in laboratory

experiments focused on single processes.

One purpose of the meta-analysis was to determine whether there is evidence that

phonics instruction improves readers’ ability to read words in various ways.

Studies in the database were published between 1970 and 2000, although the majority

were conducted in the last 10 years: 1970-1979 (1 study); 1980- to 1989 (9 studies); and

1990 to 2000 (28 studies). Most (66%) were carried out in the United States, but 24%

were done in Canada, and the remainder in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New

Zealand. The primary statistic used to analyze effects of phonics instruction on outcome

measures was effect size, indicating whether and by how much performance of the

treatment group exceeded performance of the control group, with the difference

expressed in standard deviation units. The formula used to calculate raw effect size for

each treatment-control comparison consisted of the mean of the treatment group minus

the mean of the control group divided by a pooled standard deviation. This formula was

adopted for use in all meta-analyses conducted by the NRP.

Findings support the conclusion that systematic phonics helps children learn to

read more effectively than program with little or no phonics instruction. Phonics was

especially effective in teaching children to decode novel words, one of the main goals of

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