Open Court Reading
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The Open Court Reading Program is a core Language arts/English series used in a large number of elementary schools classrooms. It was one of two reading programs adopted for use in California schools when textbooks were last chosen in 2002. The other was Houghton-Mifflin Reading. For the 2008 Edition, Open Court Reading's name was changed to Imagine It!.
The series is published by McGraw-Hill Education.
There is both praise and criticism of the program among educators. Proponents of Open Court Reading believe that its focus on phonics and reading comprehension strategy use, both taught with very explicit instruction, benefit children. Some critics dislike the explicit nature of instruction, suggesting that it leaves little room for child exploration or teacher creativity, as constructivist models of reading instruction such as whole language. Success for All, a whole-school reform model that includes reading has been studied extensively, but Open Court has been tested experimentally far less.
Open Court Reading is a comprehensive reading and writing program for kids in elementary school known for its systematic instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness and phonics. Equally strong is the instruction in comprehension and writing. The comprehension instruction is based on Ann Brown’s work with Annemarie Palincsar to develop reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984) and Michael Pressley’s work on transactional strategy instruction both of which are constructivistic in nature. Both Brown and Pressley were authors on the program. Writing instruction focuses on teaching writing process, forms and traits. Inquiry is at the heart of Open Court Reading. The inquiry strand within the program reflects the research on knowledge building communities done by Bereiter and Scardamalia, again both authors on the program. Through inquiry students learn to use reading and writing as tools for learning, to work collaboratively, and to build and share knowledge.
Open Court Reading is used in a variety of districts across the country. Results from both state and national high-stakes tests have shown Open Court Reading to be an effective language arts program. 
A rigorous review of Open Court Reading in 2012 conducted for by U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse for evidence-based practice identified 58 studies of Open Court Reading, but only one, a randomized controlled trial, met quality-of-evidence standards. That study by Borman, Dowling & Schneck involved five schools in five states, including more than 900 students during the 2005-6 school year. More than 75% of the students were eligible for free or reduced school lunch; fewer than 15% were English as a Second Language students, and fewer than 10% were special education students. The study found an effect size of .16 of a standard deviation for reading comprehension, statistically significant at the .05 level. This was determined to be a "small effect" with a "rating of potentially positive effects, with a small amount of evidence.
A major revision/update of Open Court Reading will be released for Grades K-2 in Fall 2016; a new Foundational Skills Kit was released earlier in the year.
- See research cited at http://opencourtreading.com/research_and_success/
- Official website of SRA/McGraw-Hill, Open Court Reading publisher.
- Open Court Resources.com, largest collection of free Open Court Reading Resources on the internet created by and for Open Court Reading teachers
- A Yahoo Discussion Board created by teachers of Open Court Reading to share ideas for teaching the program.
- US Department of Education, What Works Clearinghouse, WWC Intervention Report, August 2012, "Adolescent Literacy: Open Court Reading", http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=568
- Borman, G.D., Dowling, N.M. and Schneck, C. (2008) Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(4), 389-407.