A remedy for reading difficulties
The Dec 13 article “Reading scores decrease in Ohio overall” reported that reading scores among Ohio third-graders are expected to decrease in the coming year and that a large number of students will be at risk for retention because of poor reading performance (275 in Akron alone).
State school Superintendent Richard Ross noted correctly that inadequate “basic reading skills” cause problems that go well beyond reading and may negatively affect students’ entire lives.
Why do we have so many students who struggle in reading? Research has demonstrated that a large majority of young students who struggle in reading have yet to master one or more of the foundational reading skills upon which higher levels of reading and learning are based.
These foundational skills include phonics or word knowledge and reading fluency. It is clear that students will have difficulty comprehending texts if they are unable to decode the words in texts, do not adequately understand the words in texts, or read with inappropriate fluency.
Professor Sheila Valencia has studied elementary students who performed poorly on the Washington State reading test (similar to the test taken by students in Ohio). She found that an overwhelming majority of these students exhibited difficulties in one or more of these foundational competencies.
Despite compelling evidence that problems in these areas are a significant cause of reading difficulties, other research has found that these areas are often given insufficient instructional emphasis in our schools. One study found that less than five minutes per day was devoted to fluency instruction in schools that were mandated to provide such instruction.
Our experience in the Kent State University reading clinic for struggling readers has found that focused instruction on the foundational skills, using our Fluency Development Lesson for as little as five weeks can have a dramatic and positive impact on students’ word knowledge, fluency, comprehension and overall reading proficiency.
Indiana has adopted a statewide reading initiative similar to Ohio’s. One Indiana school district that adopted the Fluency Development Lesson as the core instruction for struggling readers found that 80 percent of the third-grade students who did not pass the Indiana reading test in April were able to pass the reading test after a five-week summer program, with the average score achieved by the students 30 points above the score needed for passage.
Learning to read is critical to student and school success. Making mastery of the foundational reading skills a goal to be achieved by third grade would lead to significant improvements in the reading ability of Ohio’s third-graders (and beyond).
Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D.
Professor, curriculum and instruction
Reading and Writing Center
Kent State University