Reading comprehension also features prominently in the teaching of most subject areas, including English, history and social studies, mathematics, and science. Teachers of these subjects must decide to what extent reading comprehension instruction is required as part of their effort to teach the subject matter. There is currently little guidance in this regard. Research on reading comprehension therefore has the potential to provide benefits in virtually all subject areas. Furthermore, reading comprehension is poorly measured. Current tests emphasize the speed of reading and short-term recall of factual information. But existing research suggests that both speed and short-term recall are weak predictors of the construction of understanding from text that comprehension requires. Given the importance of reading comprehension in standardized tests, making progress on test measurement issues would have substantial potential to influence practice.
In contrast to mathematics and reading comprehension, science was identified for upstream research because the development of science curricula, particularly for the elementary and middle school years, has been remarkably weak. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently reviewed widely used textbooks in middle school science. “The study probed beyond the usual superficial alignment by topic heading and examined each text’s quality of instruction aimed specifically at the key ideas, using criteria drawn from the best available research about how students learn” (Roseman et al., 1999). Not one of the middle school science texts evaluated by the project was rated as satisfactory. High school biology texts scored slightly higher than the middle school texts, but the evaluation found serious shortcomings in both their content coverage and instructional design (Budiansky, 2001). Textbooks across the grades were characterized as “overstuffed and undernourished,” with presentation of a great many facts and too few opportunities to present the concepts that make those facts meaningful (Budiansky, 2001). In contrast to mathematics, there is little agreement in science as to the sequence and content of study, or even when science education should begin.
The areas the committee has chosen for focus are strategic: they provide either the opportunity to leverage existing investments in research by carrying promising findings through to practice, or they hold promise for providing new knowledge in areas of critical need. We emphasize, however, that a SERP