Educational Research Analysts  May 2004 Newsletter 
ESL students lose, publishers save.
TEA Conflict of Interest?
— the issue —
Real phonics decodability means that students learn the sound of each letter or combination of letters in each phonetically regular word, before reading that word. Real phonics never teaches phonetically regular words as sight words. Many scientific studies confirm the super­iority of this method. Phony phonics claims to "include" phonics. Students learn only some sounds in a word before memo­rizing it, over­load­ing their memories before learning to read well. If a program teaches phone­ti­cally regular words as sight words, it is not real phonics, what­ever its billing. Foes of real phonics try either to lower the percent decodability required, or to water down the definition of decodability.

"Thank you for this service!!"
Texas ESL teacher, responding to our comparison chart on Grade 1 ESL programs submitted for Texas adoption.

— the problem —
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has tried both ploys recently. In the submission of regular Reading programs in 1999, TEA used the real phonics definition of decoda­bil­ity, but said that Texas required just 51% decodability. The State Board of Education (SBOE) vetoed that, insist­ing on at least 80%. So, for the 2003 English as a Second Language (ESL) readers, TEA "revised" the definition of decodability, supposed­ly "to more closely reflect previous Board action." But in fact, it subtly debased the 1999 definition of decodability, to include phonetically regular words taught as sight words. Under that guise, the state review panel and TEA declared the 2003 ESL offerings "100% decodable."
Which was far from true. As our com­par­i­son chart shows on page 2 here, Grade 1 ESL programs fell short even of 80% overall decoda­bility. That chart exhaustively sum­marizes how decod­able each Grade 1 ESL program sub­mit­ted for Texas adoption really was. Confronted with this undeni­able evi­dence, TEA lapsed into redundance: ESL prog­rams define decod­a­bil­ity differently, TEA said, because … be­cause ESL prog­rams define decoda­bility differently. All the learning needs of English learners, posed to justify lower ESL decoda­bility, were equally true of native English speak­ers learning to read. Inferior decoda­bility is unac­cep­table for native English speak­ers, TEA logic ran, but is good enough for English learners.

"Thank you so much for doing this, it helps teachers make a more informed decision!"
Texas ESL teacher, requesting documentation for Texas adoption

— the question —
In 2003, TEA "advocates for children" redefined decoda­bility to make English learners second-class students, sparing publish­ers the cost of raising their ESL Readers to 80% real phonics decodability. TEA tried to spare publishers this in 1999 with the regular Readers. And to that end, TEA misrepresented to the Board its redef­inition of ESL decodability. Also, TEA power to appoint state textbook review pa­nels makes them TEA clones in­stead of checks and balances. This train of abuse begs the ques­tion, Why does TEA repeatedly try to help pub­lishers instead of students? Texas should revise its education code, to empower the SBOE to appoint state textbook review panel members.
 ESL programs compared >>