Literacy Research Panel

Background and Mission

Panel members at the 2013 IRA Annual Conference

Under the leadership of Dr. P. David Pearson Ph.D., of the University of California at Berkeley IRA created the Literacy Research Panel to respond to critical literacy issues facing policymakers, school administrators, teacher educators, classroom teachers, parents and the general public.

In a series of conference calls and meetings, four issues quickly came to the forefront of discussion:

The Achievement Gap. The racial gap has been narrowed (a little), but the SES gap has actually increased. Moreover, the gap between the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile is continually widening.

Motivation and Engagement. Though the high school dropout rate has been incrementally decreasing in recent years, an alarming 28 percent of students still do not graduate on time. Many students simply aren't being motivated or engaged in a way that will lead to increased retention at either the high school or college levels.

Standards and Assessments. The new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts present many challenges, including classroom implementation and professional development. Text difficulty is a concern, especially for beginning readers. Moreover the associated assessment issues are likely to be complex.

Teacher Education. The ability to assess student literacy progress toward curricular goals and to lead effective classroom conversations are vital skills in need of systematic development. We need better methods of teacher evaluation and a way to counter the implicit assumption in policy circles that there's no payoff for teacher education or professional development.

The panel divided into four working subgroups to focus on various initiatives suggested in their ongoing discussions:

Group 1 - Vision Statement. This subgroup led discussions of various drafts of a statement that describes current literacy challenges and a vision for improving literacy education. A copy of the current draft of the vision statement is available here. The panel is seeking comments on this document from IRA members and related stakeholders. If you wish to provide comments, questions, or suggestions, please send an email message to with "vision statement" in the subject line.

Group 2 - Panel Presentation at IRA Chicago. This subgroup is planning presentations and media opportunities for the panel. The recent focus involved planning the presentation of the Literacy Research Panel during this year's IRA Convention. The session offered a moderated discussion of critical issues surrounding literacy education and offer research-based frameworks for addressing the policy questions.

Group 3 - Professional Resources and PD Syllabus. This subgroup is working to construct a model of advanced reading and literacy engagement that characterizes learners, relates to classrooms, and is research based. The group is interested in designing and implementing resources and a set of professional materials for classroom instruction that intentionally fosters advanced reading and engagement.

Group 4 – Research Policy. In collaboration with the Board of Directors, this subgroup is working on the development of a more formalized "policy response capability" for IRA, enabling the Association to prepare and disseminate research framed comments and responses to research and policy issues in real time, enhancing IRA's stature as a go-to source for professional guidance on policy matters.

These initiatives are works in progress. Some will require approval from and collaboration with the IRA Board of Directors, especially where resources must be committed to commission certain types of work. The Panel will work very closely with the Board on such matters.

The panel intends to engage with policy circles at the national and state level. However, the panel aims to do more than affect policy change; it aims to enhance effective literacy instruction across the country and around the world by introducing constructive initiatives to change policy and practices where it matters — in districts and schools.

Panel Members

Peter Afflerbach Peter Afflerbach, Ph. D., professor of reading in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Maryland,
Amy Correa Amy Correa, M.Ed., Chicago Public School teacher and visiting instructor of education and co-director Literacy Partners, National Louis University,
 Nell DukeNell Duke, Ed.D, professor of language, literacy, and culture and affiliate of the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan,
 Peter Freebody Peter Freebody, Ph.D., professor, Sydney Honorary Professorial Fellow, Wollongong, Australia
Virginia Goatley Virginia Goatley, professor and chair, Department of Reading, University at Albany - SUNY
John Guthrie John Guthrie, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Department of Human Development at the University of Maryland,
Kris Gutierrez Kris Gutierrez, Ph.D., professor of Literacy and Learning Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder,
Kenji Hakuta Kenji Hakuta, Ph.D., the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University,
 Peter Johnston Peter Johnston, Vincent O'Leary professor, Department of Reading, University at Albany, SUNY
Gloria Ladson-Billings Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D., the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Nonie Lesaux Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., the Marie and Max Kargman associate professor in Human Development and Urban Education Advancement at the Harvard Graduate School of Education,
 Elizabeth Moje Elizabeth Moje, Ph.D., associate dean for research and community engagement and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan,
Maureen McLaughlin Maureen McLaughlin, Ph.D., Panel's ex-officio, professor and chair of the Reading Department at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania,
Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, Ph.D., the Jean and Charles Walgreen Jr. Chair of Reading and Literacy, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan,
 P. David Pearson P. David Pearson, Ph.D., chair of the Literacy Research Panel and professor of Language, Literacy and Culture at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley,
Linda Phillips Linda Phillips, Ph.D., professor and director, Canadian Center for Research on Literacy, University of Alberta,
Timothy Shanahan Timothy Shanahan, Ph.D., professor of urban education, director of the Center for Literacy, and department chairman of the Curriculum and Instruction department at the University of Illinois at Chicago,
Catherine Snow Catherine Snow, Ph.D., the Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education,
Bill Teale William Teale, Ph.D., professor of literacy education at UI-Chicago and the Panel's liaison to the IRA Board of Directors,
Karen Wixson Karen Wixson, Ph.D., dean of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's School of Education,

Vision Statement DRAFT

(We encourage comments on the Vision Statement draft. Please send an e-mail message to with "vision statement" in the title.)

Students in kindergarten today will live with a level of complexity that those of us who are adults now can barely imagine. They are destined to live in a globalized society, facing literacy demands that are increasingly varied and consequential, and that change rapidly. Active, successful participation in personal, civic, academic and work life will demand that all young people master complex individual and collaborative literate practices and develop dispositions that ensure continued learning beyond the school years. Yet, educational policies and practices have produced broad disengagement among our youth and have become a major obstacle to achieving this goal. Inequities in educational attainment, including high dropout rates for some groups and income-related achievement gaps, in many ways reflect insufficient opportunities to pursue personally and socially meaningful questions in school. These inequities, which particularly beset poor youth, deprive them of access not only to further education, rewarding careers, and other societal opportunities, but also to fulfilling lives in school.

IRA's goal is to ensure that the next generation is prepared for fulfilling personal, civic, academic and work lives. IRA's vision for achieving this goal is that schools must be transformed into places where students at all levels of schooling are actively engaged in personally and socially meaningful learning and inquiry. If students are to acquire the knowledge and tools that allow full participation in society, they must have opportunities to be both cognitively and affectively engaged in learning. It is through asking and answering personally and socially relevant questions that students learn content, practice skills, and learn to act strategically to accomplish goals. Engagement and initiative are natural consequences of such practices. So too, are critical thinking, argumentation, weighing multiple sources of evidence, managing productive discussions, and other competencies including those advocated in the Common Core Standards.

IRA's vision can be accomplished by focusing on practices and contexts that foster engagement such as: (a) involving students in recognizing and responding to actual problems in their lives or in society, (b) teaching reading and writing as integrated tools for learning and for crafting solutions to important, meaningful problems, (c) helping students to take individual and collaborative control of, and responsibility for, their learning, (d) recognizing that cognitive challenge, in the context of engagement, is a source of motivation, and (e) making engagement, relevance, and initiative central pillars of teaching and learning. A shift in assessment is also necessary to capitalize on and enhance engagement. Classroom assessment should provide instructionally useful indicators of extended engagements with literacy and learning. Because assessments are always limited reflections of learning, if they are used in ways that make them the goal of instruction, they will undermine student learning.

Creating the contexts necessary for realizing IRA's vision requires preparing highly skilled teachers who know how to generate active student engagement, redesigning curricula and content standards to focus on big, relevant ideas, and reallocating school time so that pacing guides, 'coverage,' test preparation, and assessment do not interfere with learning. This in turn demands extensive, evidence-based professional development for district and school leaders as well as teachers, based on the same principles as those for student learning.

LRP Policy Briefs



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