Struggling Readers

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States (2014) The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school and to be economically successful in adulthood. This KIDS COUNT data snapshot finds 80 percent of fourth-graders from low-income families and 66 percent of all fourth-graders are not reading at grade level. While improvements have been made in the past decade, reading proficiency levels remain low. Given the critical nature of reading to children’s individual achievement and the nation’s future economic success, the Casey Foundation offers recommendations for communities and policymakers to support early reading. Early reading proficiency rates for the nation and each state are provided.

Improving Reading Outcomes for Students with or at Risk for Reading Disabilities

Connor, C., Alberto, P.A., Compton, D.L., and O'Connor, R.E. (February 2014) Improving Reading Outcomes for Students with or at Risk for Reading Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Contributions from the Institute of Education Sciences Research Centers, U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Special Education Research.

This report describes what has been learned about the improvement of reading outcomes for children with or at risk for reading disabilities through published research funded by the Institute of Education Science (IES). The report describes contributions to the knowledge base across four focal areas: assessment, basic cognitive and linguistic processes that support successful reading, intervention, and professional development.

Glutamate and Choline Levels Predict Individual Differences in Reading Ability in Emergent Readers

Fulbright, R. et al (2014) Glutamate and Choline Levels Predict Individual Differences in Reading Ability in Emergent Readers, The Journal of Neuroscience, 12 March 2014, 34(11): 4082-4089.

The research team measured levels of glutamate, choline, and other metabolites in 75 children, aged 6 to 10, whose reading abilities ranged from what is considered impaired to superior. The researchers conducted behavioral testing to characterize the children’s reading, language, and general cognitive skills, and used MR spectroscopy to assess metabolite levels. They found that children with higher glutamate and choline levels in their brains tended to have lower composite scores for reading and language. In follow-up testing two years later, the same correlation still existed for initial glutamate levels. This study is believed to be the first to examine neurochemistry in a longitudinal study of children during the critical period when they are considered "emergent readers" — the age at which neurocircuits that support skilled reading and speaking are still developing.

Can Readability Formulas Be Used to Successfully Gauge Difficulty of Reading Materials?

Begeny, J. C. and Greene, D. J. (2014), Can Readability Formulas Be Used to Successfully Gauge Difficulty of Reading Materials? Psychology in the Schools, 51: 198–215.

Teachers, parents and textbook companies use technical "readability" formulas to determine how difficult reading materials are and to set reading levels by age group. This study from North Carolina State University shows that the readability formulas are usually inaccurate and offer little insight into which age groups will be able to read and understand a text. In the study, 360 students (grades 2-5) read six written passages out loud. The researchers assessed the students’ performance, giving each student an "oral reading fluency" score, which is considered a good metric for measuring reading ability. The researchers then used eight different readability formulas to see which level each formula gave to the six written passages. Results varied widely, with one passage being rated from first grade to fifth grade level. The levels assigned by the readability formulas were then compared with researchers’ assessments of each student’s actual ability to read the material. Seven of the eight readability formulas were less than 49 percent accurate, with the worst formula scoring only 17 percent accuracy. The highest-rated formula was accurate 79 percent of the time.

Ready for Fall? Near-Term Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Students' Learning Opportunities and Outcomes

Jennifer Sloan McCombs, John F. Pane, Catherine H. Augustine, Heather L. Schwartz, Paco Martorell, Laura Zakaras (2014). Ready for Fall? Near-Term Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Students' Learning Opportunities and Outcomes. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

This six-year study of summer learning programs in five urban areas revealed that while students who attended summer learning programs performed better in math, they did not experience near-term benefits in reading or see significant improvement in social and emotional outcomes compared to their peers. However, the study identified key factors linked to reading achievement. Students whose summer reading teacher had just taught the sending or receiving grade during the school year performed better on the reading test than did students with teachers unfamiliar with their grade level. Students whose reading teachers scored higher on RAND's measure of instructional quality outperformed students with lower-scoring teachers. Finally, students in summer sites rated by teachers as having strong behavior management policies and well-behaved students outperformed students in the control group in reading.

What Works to Improve Student Literacy Achievement? An Examination of Instructional Practices in a Balanced Literacy Approach

Bitter, C., O'Day, J., Gubbins, P., & Socias, M. (2009). What works to improve student literacy achievement? an examination of instructional practices in a balanced literacy approach. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 14(1), 17-44.

A core assumption of the San Diego City Schools (SDCS) reform effort was that improved instructional practices, aligned with a balanced literacy approach, would be effective in improving student outcomes. This article explores this hypothesis by presenting findings from an analysis of classroom instruction data collected in 101 classrooms in nine high-poverty elementary schools. The study found a prevalent focus on reading comprehension instruction and on students' active engagement in making meaning from text. Teachers' use of higher-level questions and discussion about text were substantially higher than that found by a prior study using the same instrument in similar classrooms elsewhere. Analyses of instruction and student outcome data indicate that teacher practices related to the higher-level meaning of text, writing instruction, and strategies for accountable talk were associated with growth in students' reading comprehension.

Technology in Early Education: Building Platforms for Connections and Content that Strengthen Families and Promote Success in School

Guernsey, L. (2012). technology in early education: Building platforms for connections and content that strengthen families and promote success in school. The Progress of Education Reform, 14(4), 7-14.

This report looks at trends in digital media use by young children, how to effectively use parents and librarians as partners in early learning, and recommendations for building integrated technology platforms for early education.

Improving Students' Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E., Nathan, M.J., Willingham, D. Improving students' learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, January 2013 vol. 14, 4-58.

In this monograph, the researchers discuss 10 learning techniques in detail and offer recommendations about their relative utility. The selected techniques are relatively easy to use and could be adopted by many students. Also, some techniques (e.g., highlighting and rereading) were selected because students report relying heavily on them, which makes it especially important to examine how well they work. The techniques include elaborative interrogation, self-explanation, summarization, highlighting (or underlining), the keyword mnemonic, imagery use for text learning, rereading, practice testing, distributed practice, and interleaved practice.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts

Adams, M.J. (2011). Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

The language of today's twelfth-grade English texts is simpler than that of seventh-grade texts published prior to 1963. No wonder students' reading comprehension has declined sharply.

Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade, But We Need To

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (2011). Beyond Comprehension: We Have Yet to Adopt a Common Core Curriculum That Builds Knowledge Grade by Grade — But We Need To. American Educator, Winter 2010-2011, American Federation of Teachers.

Most of today's reading programs rest on faulty ideas about reading comprehension. Comprehension is not a general skill; it relies on having relevant vocabulary and knowledge.

Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development

Richland, L. E., & Burchinal, M. R. (2013). Early Executive Function Predicts Reasoning Development. Psychological Science, 24, 87-92.

New research findings from the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill demonstrate that children begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills as early as 4.5 years of age. Using large-scale longitudinal data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development study, the authors examined tests children took at age 4.5, when they were in first grade, third grade, and at age 15. Findings showed a strong relationship between high scores among children who, as preschoolers, had strong vocabularies and were good at monitoring and controlling their responses (executive function) to later ability on tests of understanding analogies. Research suggests that executive function may be trainable through pathways such as preschool curriculum, exercise, and impulse control training.

Approaches to Parental Involvement for Improving the Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children

Nye, C., Turner, H. M. & Schwartz, J. B. (2006) Approaches to Parental Involvement for Improving the Academic Performance of Elementary School Age Children. University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.

The purpose of this review was to summarize the most dependable evidence on the effect of parental involvement for improving the academic performance of elementary school age children in grades K-6. This review found that parent involvement had a positive and significant effect on children's overall academic performance. The effect was educationally meaningful and large enough to have practical implications for parents, family involvement practitioners, and policymakers. When parents participated in academic enrichment activities with their children outside of school for an average of less than 12 weeks, children demonstrated an equivalent of 4 to 5 months improvement in reading or math performance.

Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning

McCombs, J., Augustine, C., Schwartz, H., Bodilly, S., McInnis, B., Lichter, D., Cross, A. (2011). Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children's Learning. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Education.

A review of the literature on summer learning loss and summer learning programs, coupled with data from ongoing programs offered by districts and private providers across the U.S., demonstrates the potential of summer programs to improve achievement as well as the challenges in creating and maintaining such programs. School districts and summer programming providers can benefit from the existing research and lessons learned by other programs in terms of developing strategies to maximize program effectiveness and quality, student participation, and strategic partnerships and funding. Recommendations for providers and policymakers address ways to mitigate barriers by capitalizing on a range of funding sources, engaging in long-term planning to ensure adequate attendance and hiring, and demonstrating positive student outcomes.

Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?

West, M.R. Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating? (2012) Brookings Institution, Center on Children and Families.

Whether a child is a proficient reader by the third grade is an important indicator of their future academic success. Indeed, substantial evidence indicates that unless students establish basic reading skills by that time, the rest of their education will be an uphill struggle. This evidence has spurred efforts to ensure that all students receive high-quality reading instruction in and even before the early grades. It has also raised the uncomfortable question of how to respond when those efforts fail to occur or prove unsuccessful: Should students who have not acquired a basic level of reading proficiency by grade three be promoted along with their peers? Or should they be retained and provided with intensive interventions before moving on to the next grade? This paper looks at the background on grade retention, a case study of test-based promotion in Florida, and policy implications.

Third Grade Literacy Policies: Identification, Intervention, Retention

Rose, S. and Schimke, K. Third Grade Literacy Policies: Identification, Intervention, Retention (2012) Education Commission of the States.

This paper examines policies to promote 3rd-grade reading proficiency, including early identification of and intervention for struggling readers, as well as retention as an action of last resort. The authors outline case studies in both Florida and New York City, and identify decisions policymakers must consider as they implement policies around 3rd-grade literacy.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Child-Parent Center Early Education Program

Reynolds, A. J., Temple, J. A., White, B. A., Ou, S., & Robertson, D. L. (2011). Cost-benefit analysis of the Child-Parent Center early education program. Child Development, 82, 379-404.

Children who attended an intensive preschool and family support program attained higher educational levels, were more likely to be employed, and less likely to have problems with the legal system than were peers who did not attend the program, according to a study funded by the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The Child-Parent Center (CPC) early education program is a large-scale, federally funded intervention providing services for disadvantaged 3- to 9-year-olds in Chicago. The researchers identified five key principles of the CPC that they say led to its effectiveness, including providing services that are of sufficient length or duration, are high in intensity and enrichment, feature small class sizes and teacher-student ratios, are comprehensive in scope, and are implemented by well-trained and well-compensated staff.

Educator's Guide: Identifying What Works for Struggling Readers

Slavin, R.E., Lake, C., Davis, S., & Madden, N. (2010) Educator's Guide: Identifying What Works for Struggling Readers. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education.

This report published on the Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE) website provides an extensive review of the research on the outcomes of 27 early childhood programs. Six of the programs produced strong evidence of effectiveness in language, literacy, and/or phonological awareness. All of the effective programs had explicit academic content, a balance of teacher-led and child-initiated activity, and significant training and follow-up support.

Extensive Reading Interventions in Grades K-3: From Research to Practice

Scammacca, N., Vaughn, S., Roberts, G., Wanzek, J., & Torgesen, J. K. (2007). Extensive reading interventions in grades K-3: From research to practice. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

This report summarizes 12 peer-reviewed, high-quality research studies between 1995 and 2005 and synthesizes their findings on the effects of extensive reading interventions (comprising at least 100 instructional sessions) for struggling K-3 readers. It then explains the related implications for practice for students with reading problems or learning disabilities in an RTI setting.

On the Mind of a Child: A Conversation with Sally Shaywitz

D'Arcangelo, M. (2003). On the mind of a child: A conversation with Sally Shaywitz. Educational Leadership, 60(7), 6-10.

A pediatrician, neuroscientist, and member of the National Reading Panel, Dr. Sally Shaywitz talks with Educational Leadership readers about the ways the brains of young children develop and what can be done to prevent early learning difficulties.

Timing and Intensity of Tutoring: A Closer Look at the Conditions for Effective Early Literacy Tutoring

Vadasy, P., Sanders, E., Jenkins, J. & Peyton, J. (2002). Timing and intensity of tutoring: A closer look at the conditions for effective early literacy tutoring. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 17, 227-241.

This article reports data from a longitudinal study of one-to-one tutoring for students at risk for reading disabilities. Participants were at-risk students who received phonics-based tutoring in first grade, students who were tutored in comprehension skills in second grade, and students tutored in both grades 1 and 2. At second-grade posttest, there were significant differences in word identification and word attack between students who were tutored in first grade only compared to students who were also tutored in second grade, favoring students who were tutored in first grade only. Overall, there were no advantages to a second year of tutoring. For students tutored in second grade only, there were no differences at second-grade posttest compared to controls. Schools may have selected students who did not respond to first-grade tutoring for continued tutoring in second grade. Findings are discussed in light of decisions schools make when using tutors to supplement reading instruction for students with reading difficulties.

Components of Effective Remediation for Developmental Reading Disabilities: Combining Phonological and Strategy-Based Introduction to Improve Outcomes

Lovett, Maureen W., Lacerenza, L., Borden, Susan L., Frijters, Jan C., et al. (2000). Components of Effective Remediation for Developmental Reading Disabilities: Combining Phonological and Strategy-Based Introduction to Improve Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 263-283.

The efficacy of a combination of phonological and strategy-based remedial approaches for reading disability (RD) was compared with that of each approach separately. Eighty-five children with severe RD were randomly assigned to 70 intervention hours in 1 of 5 sequences. Performance was assessed before, 3 times during, and after intervention. Four orthogonal contrasts based on a linear trend analysis model were evaluated. There were generalized treatment effects on standardized measures of word identification, passage comprehension, and nonword reading. A combination of PHAB/DI and WIST proved superior to either program alone on nonword reading, letter-sound and keyword knowledge, and 3 word identification measures. Generalization of nonword decoding to real word identification was achieved with a combination of effective remedial components.

Beating the Odds in Teaching All Children to Read

Taylor, B., Pearson, P., Clark, K., & Walpole, S. (1999). Beating the odds in teaching all children to read. CIERA Report 2-006. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor.

What schoolwide practices characterize schools in which at-risk learners are beating the odds? What instructional practices are used by the most accomplished primary-grade teachers and by teachers in the most effective schools? The authors used quantitative and descriptive methods to investigate school and classroom factors related to primary-grade reading achievement. Fourteen schools across the U.S. with moderate to high numbers of students on subsidized lunch were identified as most, moderately, or least effective based on several measures of reading achievement in the primary grades. A combination of school and teacher factors, many of which were intertwined, was found to be important in the most effective schools. Statistically significant school factors included strong links to parents, systematic assessment of pupil progress, strong building communication, and a collaborative model for the delivery of reading instruction, including early reading interventions. In all of the most effective schools, reading was clearly a priority at both the building and classroom level.

Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children

Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

In this report, we are most concerned with the large numbers of children in America whose educational careers are imperiled because they do not read well enough to ensure understanding and to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive economy. Current difficulties in reading largely originate from rising demands for literacy, not from declining absolute levels of literacy. In a technological society, the demands for higher literacy are ever increasing, creating more grievous consequences for those who fall short. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked the National Academy of Sciences to establish a committee to examine the prevention of reading difficulties. Our committee was charged with conducting a study of the effectiveness of interventions for young children who are at risk of having problems learning to read. The goals of the project were three: (1) to comprehend a rich but diverse research base; and (2) to translate the research findings into advice and guidance for parents, educators, publishers, and others.

Why Reading Is Not a Natural Process

Lyon, G. (1998, March). Why reading is not a natural process. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18.
Nearly four decades of scientific research on how children learn to read supports an emphasis on phonemic awareness and phonics in a literature-rich environment. These findings challenge the belief that children learn to read naturally.

What Makes Literacy Tutoring Effective?

Juel, C. (1996). What makes literacy tutoring effective? Reading Research Quarterly, 31, 268-289.

In 1991, researchers Connie Juel reported that university student-athletes who were poor readers seemed to be effective tutors of first-grade children who were poor readers. This 1996 study explores factors that may account for successful tutoring outcomes when poor readers tutor other poor readers. Two activities were found to be particularly important in successful tutor-student relationship: (a) the use of texts that gradually and repetitively introduced both high-frequency vocabulary and words with common spelling patterns and (b) activities in which children were engaged in direct letter-sound instruction. Two forms of verbal interaction were found to be particularly important: (a) scaffolding of reading and writing and (b) modeling of how to read and spell unknown words.

Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children From First Through Fourth Grades

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 243-255.

In this study, of particular concern were these questions: Do the same children remain poor readers year after year? Do the same children remain poor writers year after year? What skills do the poor readers lack? What skills do the poor writers lack? What factors seem to keep poor readers from improving? What factors seem to keep poor writers from improving? The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of 4th grade if the child was a poor reader at the end of 1st grade was 0.88. Early writing skill did not predict later writing skill as well as early reading ability predicted later reading ability. Children who become poor readers entered 1st grade with little phonemic awareness. By the end of 4th grade, the poor readers had still not achieved the level of decoding skill that the good readers had achieved at the beginning of 2nd grade. Good readers read considerably more than the poor readers both in and out of school, which appeared to contribute to the good readers' growth in some reading and writing skills. Poor readers tended to become poor writers.

Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy

Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.

The Matthew Effects are not only about the progressive decline of slow starters, but also about the widening gap between slow starters and fast starters. In reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This report presents a framework for conceptualizing development of individual differences in reading ability that emphasizes the effects of reading on cognitive development and on "bootstrapping" relationships involving reading. It uses the framework to explain some persisting problems in the literature on reading disability and to conceptualize remediation efforts in reading.

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"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo