A Research Proposal to
The U.S. Department of Education
and Universities Who
Consider Themselves to be
Leaders in the Field of Education
To Help Gather the Essential Statistics so that Researchers,
Publishers, School Systems, and Classroom Teachers Can Determine What Is and
Isn't Caught and What Needs to be Taught and What Teaching Methods Work Best.
This report should contain:
- A written report in book form similar to the report: Adult
Literacy in America: A First Look at the Results of the National Adult
Literacy Survey (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education
- This report in book form would be made available to:
- Public, university, and school libraries
Researchers interested in the relationship of orthography
to literacy and in developing a tool to measure and evaluate
spelling programs and methods of teaching spelling
- Publishers interested in developing better spelling and reading programs.
- School systems interested in evaluating their current spelling program and/or
developing a better spelling program.
- Baseline expectancies of an adequate spelling program by grades.
- Actual percentages of students correctly spelling basic words and
word phrases by grades, socio-economic factors, ethnicity, school size,
classroom size, city size, school type (private, parochial, charter, public,
home), type of spelling program being used.
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News Article from The Los Angeles Times
Studints angur at vanduls unvales bigur problum
Schools rethink how they teach--or don't teach--spelling
by Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times
How do you spell failure?
The residents of Middletown, Calif., an agricultural community 60 miles north of
San Francisco, feared the answer was on the letters page of their local
newspaper. There they found more than two dozen letters from
eighth-graders furious about an outbreak of vandalism at their school.
Departing from its usual practice, the newspaper ran the letters exactly as they
had been written. It didn't take long to figure out why.
For starters, the 25
students spelled "vandal" in nearly as many ways. "Dear
Vandales" went one letter, "I really think that you were tuped to mess
our classrooms...Our teachers our upseat and so are the students. I think
you should rote in ____."
Or, "Dear Vanduls, I
hope your happy now that you just cost us thousands of dollars and ruind are new
"vandals" right but not much else.
Du we hav a prbloem
hear? We soitenly do--and not only in Middletown. Swept up in a wave
of new thinking about how to teach reading and writing, ... schools throughout
California largely abandoned spelling instruction 10 years ago. And, as
California went whole hog for "whole language"--the theory that
language skills should come naturally, by absorbing good literature--so went the
Sales of spelling books
began to plummet, and workshops on nurturing creativity in young writers
flourished. Teachers encouraged 5- and 6-year-olds to spell words the way
they sounded --"I'm gowing to lern the hulla in Huwyyee"__so as not to
impede the flow of ideas.
Mistakes were not
instantly circled in red but were praised as examples of "invented,"
.. spelling -- the idea being that students should not be slaves to dictionaries
until about the fourth grade. Report cards reflected the new emphasis,
like the one in Houston's public schools that grades students' use of
"spelling that can be understood." All over, parents perturbed
by funny-looking words were being told to chill out.
Now, says spelling
researcher J. Richard gentry, autho of "Spel...Is a Four Letter Word,"
"we have a whole generation of children who are really poor
spellers." Indeed, in a war that waged for weeks in the local papers,
some Middletown residents seized on the student letters as proof of the
inferiority of public schools. A few did contend that spelling wasn't so
important in this age of computer spell-checks. (Webmaster's note:
If you believe this, click on Ewe Kin Awl Weighs Spill
Chick Yore Let Her) But, for the most part, community members were
shocked by the rampant errors. H.D. Hoover, a University of Iowa professor
... is blunt: "People can be proud of being bad in math and explain it
away. But if you misspell words, people think you're stupid."
Experts say too much TV
and too little reading are part of the problem. But Hoover says the answer
might be simpler than that: U.S. schools simply aren't spending enough time
teaching the subject.
In California, the culprit
was "wholistic teaching," which started coming into vogue in the late
1980's. Proponents said the reason achievement was low was that learning
was chopped up into too many disconnected parts. You couldn't write until
you could spell. You couldn't spell until you learned the sounds of the
alphabet. You couldn't write a sentence until you knew your verbs from
your nouns. Whole language said you don't need to know the parts
first. Just plunge in.
Adherents frowned on the
random lists of spelling words handed out weekly in elementary schools.
Students would get the words on Monday and a test on Friday. As critics
saw it, the kids then quickly forgot the words. The solution? Drop
books that encouraged breaking language down into its parts--grammar...readers,
spelling books. Order up textbooks rich in children's literature.
Link the teaching of spelling, reading and grammar through stories and writing,
lots of writing.
In many schools, fixating
on spelling came to be seen as an impediment to writing, especially during the
tender years of kindergarten and first grade...Spelling, the theory went, would
be more meaningful and learned more readily in the course of writing a paper
about pterodactyls or reading a classic like "The Little Engine That
...After the Middletown
Times Star published the error-ridden letters, the eighth-graders pelted the
paper with more letters, which were angrier than before--but whew, lots better
spelled. They explained that they had been too upset about the vandalism
when they wrote the first letters and hadn't had time to check their
dictionaries. But community members showed little sympathy. Many of
them wrote in to say that good spelling was important. The editors--called
"mean," "rude" and "insensitive" by the students
stood their ground too.
"We could have edited
and corrected the letters prior to publication, but by doing so," they
wrote in an editorial, "a number of us felt we would be guilty of covering
up a crime far greater than vandalism.
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If you want to know how what percentage of 3rd graders in 1953
who could spell grab, make, warm, and march, could also spell
warmer, and marched, you can find them at the bottom of this web page.
- We need to establish a baseline of spelling abilities
by grades K-12 so that other studies of spelling techniques and materials can be
- We cannot (at least should not) use the only baseline
study ever completed (The New Iowa Spelling Scale) because it was done
over sixty years ago, covers only grades 1-8, and has a number of serious flaws
that should be corrected.
- We need to establish minimum standards of spelling
proficiency. For example, what percentage of students in the fifth grade
should be expected to spell the word battery? What percentage of students
in the fifth grade who can spell battery should be expected to spell the word
- Please help
AVKO provide current data
as to how many 3rd grade
students should be able to spell the following phonically regular words: grab,
make, warm, march. Also as to how many of those students who can correctly spell
those words should be able to properly add the -ed to grab, -ing to make,
-er to warm, and -ed to march. This survey should take no more than two minutes
of your time, if that.
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for Government Funding
- No university can afford to fund such a project of the scope
and magnitude required.
- No publisher would attempt it.
- Without federal funding, there will be no new spelling scale
and hence no way to scientifically determine if any improvement in students'
spelling takes place as a result of any new spelling programs.
- If we are "...to make sure our children master the
basics" (A Call to Action for American Education in
the 21st Century. U.S. Dept. of Education, 1997. p.1) we need to
be able to accurately determine whether or not specific teaching methods
such as teaching phonic patterns increases students' abilities to spell
Need for Cooperation between
Universities and Educational Organizations
to Get Government or Private Funding of a New Spelling Study
- Most funding sources, including the federal government,
prefer to have cooperation between organizations.
- Usually no single organization has the ability to do
everything by itself.
- The findings of a study are more likely to be accepted by
the academic world, schools systems, and publishers if the analysis of the
study is done by a group of independent statisticians from a university not
directly connected with those from the universities or organizations
designing and administrating the study.
- Suggested universities and organizations to participate in
the study and creation of a new spelling scale:
- Saginaw Valley State University
- The Family Literacy Center at Indiana University
- The AVKO Educational Research Foundation
- The International Dyslexia Association
- The Learning Disabilities Association of America
- The University of Michigan
- The U.S. Department of Education
- Any other university or organization interested in participating.
to be Taken
Design of data entry system.
- Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of word selection used in the very
"latest" comprehensive study of spelling, The New Iowa Spelling Scale (NISS)
which was done in 1953.
- Preliminary analysis reveals the
- Most of the commonly used words were tested.
- Most spelling patterns were in the corpus.
- Structural endings of base words were
sometimes given, e.g.: see, seeing, seen; season, seasons; ship, shipment,
shipped, shipping, ships.
- All words were given in grades 5-8.
- All essential words were given in grades
- Alphabetical presentation allows researchers
as well as teachers to know the percentage of students who can spell a
particular word in any specific grade from 5 through 8, and
frequently grades 2-4.
- Preliminary analysis reveals the following weaknesses:
- NISS lacks many commonly used words which have come into
regular usage since 1953, e.g., jet, pilot, marine, robot,
- Some spelling patterns were entirely omitted and many others
had only one or two words with the specific pattern given.
For example, not one -dity word was included not even
heredity, absurdity, or oddity. Only three out of
the 39 -city words (capacity, electricity, and publicity) were
- Many structural endings were omitted. For example,
although the word quarrel was included, quarrels, quarreled,
quarreling, quarrelsome were not. Although the word space
was given, spaces, spaced, spacing were not.
Although battery was given, batter, batters,
battered, battering, batterer, batterers, and batteries
were not. Heteronyms such as use ("YOOZ") and use ("YOO-ss),
object ("AH'b jekt”) and object ("uh'b JEK't”) were not
identified. Mama was misspelled as mamma (which
means breasts!) and Chatauqua has little or no meaning to
today's students (and teachers!).
- Although we know how well students did or did not learn to
spell specific words up to the beginning of grade 8 in 1953, we
don't know if any more incidental learning took place in high
school. We don't know if there was a relationship
between the inability to spell and the dropout rate in 1953.
- A few extremely difficult words were unnecessarily given to
2nd graders such as the word satisfactorily. Would you
believe the word satisfactory was not given until the 3rd?!
Also, inquiries was given to 2nd graders but the base word
inquiry was not given until the 3rd grade.
- The New Iowa Spelling Scale (NISS) lists the words only in
alphabetical order. For those curriculum designers or
teachers who feel that they should teach words and patterns in
the order of difficulty (from easy to difficult) there is no
separate listing by difficulty. This, however, has been
done successfully by AVKO
Reading Teacher's List of Over 5,000 Basic Spelling Words, McCabe,
- Prepare new list drawing upon the
strengths of NISS while eliminating its weaknesses.
- Establish a word selection committee which
could be composed of at least one linguist, one teacher from each grade
level, one college reading instructor, one college instructor of
elementary and secondary curriculum instruction, one representative from
business/industry, one representative from the NEA and AFT, and
one representative from the International Dyslexia Association and the
International Reading Association.
- Establish parameters for word selection and
select words and word phrases (e.g., shouldn't have, going to, used to,
- Prepare script using word, a sentence using
each word, and the word repeated.
- Have committee review the words and sentences.
- Have committee determine base line
proficiency by grade level for each word or word phrase. That is, if a
school's teachers are doing passing work at teaching spelling (Grade of
"D"), what percentage of their students (by grades) should be able to
correctly spell each word.
- Analyze strengths and weakness of NISS protocol
for each word list.
- Preliminary analysis reveals the following
- Words are given in sentences.
- Each student was tested on 100 different
- Over 23,000,000 spellings comprised the data.
- At least one school system from each
- Random selection was used within each
- 645 different school systems and 230,000 pupils were
- Preliminary analysis reveals the following
- No control over the vocal delivery of the words
and sentences. Today, videos could be used.
- No effort was made in the selection process
of tabulating the frequency of patterns and arranging for a representative
sampling from all patterns. For example, while the word expectancy is not
a high frequency word, the -ancy pattern occurs in 42 different words.
Only one of those, the word vacancy occurs in the NISS. Of the CVC
pattern not one of the eight -ab words (such as cab) is represented while there are 6 of the 11 -ad words (such as
- Prepare New Protocol
- Establish committee to draft protocol and list all types of statistics and
- Establish committee (not necessarily the same as above) to establish
baseline expectancies for specific words and patterns. E.g., X% of 4th
graders, Y% of 8th graders, and Z% of 12th graders must be able to spell.
if a school system is to receive a passing grade of D,
a satisfactory grade of C, a good grade of B, or an exceptional grade of
||Grade of D
||Grade of C
||Grade of B
||Grade of A
Find celebrities willing to be videotaped for the tests for a nominal
Find schools willing to administer and score the tests. Get their input.
- Find experts on educational statistics willing to design the overall
computer data entry system to give the most accurate representation of
overall average spelling abilities.
- Consult with other members of the committee so that the most important data
required will be on the forms which could include but not be limited to:
- reading levels
- grade levels
- ethnic groups
- primary language (ESL by languages)
- economic status
- school size
- classroom size
- metropolitan size
- geographical area including states
- school type (private, parochial, charter, home)
- system and/or books used for teaching spelling
- scope, sequence, number of and choice of words used in system or books
Find graduate students willing to administer and score the tests. Get
- Mass mailings to superintendents.
- Follow-up phone calls and e-mails.
- Posting of notices on websites and electronic bulletin boards.
Find video producer.
Make cost estimate for all steps before and after this step. Prepare
Make grant proposal.
Produce video tests and data collection papers.
Distribute the tests and collect data.
Disseminate data and its implications for improvement of instruction and
instructional materials. This should be in book format as well as in a
Mass mailings to colleges of education near schools participating in the
Follow-up phone calls and e-mails.
Posting of notices on websites and electronic bulletin boards.
Answers to 3rd grade spelling quick survey:
- 6% of all 3rd graders in 1953 could spell grab but only 1%
could spell grabbed!
In other words, 87% those who could spell grab could not correctly make the
past ending -ed correctly.
- 52% could spell make but only 36% could spell making.
Or 69% of those who could spell make could not add the -ing ending
- 55% could spell warm but only 22% could spell warmer.
Or 60% of those who could spell warm could not correctly add an -er.
- 38% could spell march but only 12% could spell marched.
Or 68% of those who could spell march could not correctly add the -ed.
If you think these statistics from 1953 are appalling, how much "better" do
you think today's 3rd graders would do?
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