What happens to students who don’t learn to read? Some become angry and act out; some become anxious and start to withdraw into themselves; some become anxious and have emotional breakdowns seemingly for the most trivial triggering event; some become anxious and become class clowns, distracting their peers and frustrating their teachers. As they grow older, some of these students will become depressed; some will drop out of school; some will self-medicate; some will have difficulty in establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships; some will have difficulty becoming, or staying, employed; some will become involved in illegal activities; some will go to prison.
In fact, by the start of third grade, if a student who has difficulty reading is not identified and proper forms of intervention initiated, there is only a 25% chance that that student will ever catch up to his peers. Many of those who are not up to speed by third grade fall into the downward spiral outlined above.
How can we prevent this from happening?
First, we need to identify students who are at risk of developing a reading difficulty. As early as kindergarten we can identify students who are at risk and interventions can be started. Screening all students should also be completed in first grade so that students who are again at risk can be identified and interventions given. Students in first and second grade who are deemed at risk should have regular progress monitoring that measures their fluency, the speed and accuracy at which they read, as fluency is a gatekeeper to comprehension. Without fluency, students will never become good at comprehending what they read.
Second, and equally important, we need to be sure that good reading instruction is happening in the classroom. Good reading instruction includes having highly knowledgeable teachers who are using a curriculum with an appropriate scope and sequence of skills that are taught explicitly and in a structured manner. Progress monitoring of fluency should happen for all students. For those with a reading disability or who are not making adequate progress, progress monitoring should happen weekly. The data collected from progress monitoring should be used to make informed instructional decisions so that if students are not making adequate progress, they receive more intense (smaller group) instruction until they realize their potential. Finally, teachers need to be given the time to meet to discuss specific students, and they need to have ample professional development opportunities so that they can realize their own potential as educators.
We are failing too many students by not helping them to unlock the code. Many will never experience the joys of reading; many will not realize their potentials in life; and many will become a drag on society. It’s easy to blame poverty, broken homes, and a lack of motivation as reasons why kids don’t learn to read. It’s harder, as educators, to look in the mirror and ask what we can do to solve the problem. It’s time for each of us to look in the mirror.
Head of School