Date of Award

Spring 2006

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services - Urban Education

Committee Director

Jack E. Robinson

Committee Member

Gail Taylor

Committee Member

Denny Wolfe


This study compared third-grade reading achievement of urban African-American, Title I students using a basal reading series with those using a balanced literacy program to determine whether the highly structured skills-based methods advocated by The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act actually foster or impede reading achievement in an urban school setting.

Two hundred forty-five third-grade African-American, Title I students from an urban elementary school in southeastern Virginia served as subjects for the study. Subjects were studied as intact groups to avoid disruption in the educational setting. Participants in the control group were third-grade classes of urban African-American, Title I students who were taught reading through a basal approach in the 2000-2001 school year. Participants in the comparison group were urban African-American, Title I third graders who received instruction through a balanced reading approach during the 2002-2003 school year.

The research site was an urban elementary school that has been designated as a school-wide Title I site because of the high number of low-income students classified as at-risk for school failure. Ninety-seven percent of the students receive free lunch. The school, which has an average enrollment of 700 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, is surrounded by housing projects, apartments, and single-family houses. To address the low reading performance and test scores of the third-graders, the school applied for and received a Reading Excellence Act grant in 2001 to develop reading improvement strategies. The hypothesis of this study was that urban African-American, Title I third-grade students receiving instruction through a balanced reading approach would have higher reading scores overall than students receiving instruction through a basal reading approach.

Overall reading achievement scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning Test and its subtests understanding word analysis, understanding elements of literature, and understanding a variety of printed materials/resources were examined using ANOVA (p < .05). Results showed that students performed similarly with regard to overall reading achievement on the Virginia Standards of Learning Reading: Research and Literature test whether they received basal reading instruction or balanced literacy instruction. Students also performed similarly on the subtests of word study and elements of literature, but the balanced literacy group did score significantly better on the subtest of printed materials and printed resources.

This study will add to the existing body of knowledge by identifying the benefits of these approaches to urban African-American, Title I students, which will assist school districts, schools, and teachers in designing reading programs to address the instructional needs of this population. It is important to note that in Title I schools, funding is tied to adherence to NCLB mandates, which endorse skills-based approaches more closely associated with basal reading instruction than with balanced literacy.


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