Where schools and states do these things, children read better. More children achieve at the highest levels and fewer children fail. Fewer children need intervention, and interventions are more efficient and effective. We save time, money, and futures. Everyone benefits.
Excellent early core reading programs match the way brains learn to read. They cover the five essential components of reading - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension strategies - in appropriate balance and intensity. Instruction is explicit and systematic, and includes planned, deliberate practice in isolation and in both controlled and authentic texts. Reading acquisition is not left to chance, but ensured by design.
Children are taught to distinguish and manipulate the sounds in spoken language (phonemic awareness), and to link to smallest units of sound with their letter representations (phonics). These two components are emphasized in the early grades. Spelling and reading are taught together and are mutually reinforcing. Fluency, vocabulary development, and comprehension strategies are all woven into the curriculum, and the complex, reciprocal relationship of the five components is recognized. Aided by quality assessments, teachers know what children are supposed to learn, whether they have learned it, and what to do right away if they did not learn it.
10% to 20% of children will struggle to read due to a neurological reading disability such as dyslexia. Another substantial percentage will enter school with a weak literacy background, and may continue to lack home support. Still others have experienced poor instruction. We can often spot risk factors before a child ever begins to read. Simple and quick screening instruments in phonemic awareness, rapid naming, alphabet knowledge, and basic early literacy awareness can identify the nature of the risk and guide further assessment and intervention. When we identify struggles early and intervene effectively, we get better and faster results. In 2012, Act 166 mandated universal screening for all students statewide in grade 5-K, which was then expanded to 4-K and grade 1 in 2013-14, and grade 2 in 2014-15. See the Front Burner page for continuing coverage of the implementation of screening and intervention in Wisconsin.
Without intervention, children who struggle early almost always struggle or fail later. 74% of struggling readers in 1st grade remain struggling readers in 9th grade. Science shows us that early intervention works better and faster than later efforts. It also shows us that interventions must be targeted to the specific problem, and be based on proven methods rather than classroom philosophy or personal preference. For students with neurologic reading disabilities, it is important to use an intensive, scientifically-based instructional program with sufficient practice and continuous review of skills, as well as direct, explicit, and simultaneous multi-sensory teaching techniques. Brain imaging studies (Shaywitz et al., 2004; Simos et al, 2002; Temple et al., 2003) show that as little as 100 hours of early, intensive, evidence-based remediation can rewire brains for better reading. See The Front Burner for continuing coverage of the implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI) in Wisconsin.
We know that student success depends on knowledgeable, well-trained teachers. It is not enough to care about children, work hard, and follow a curriculum, even if it is good. Educators have to know why it works, why things are done as they are, how to recognize problems, and what to do about them when they occur. The demands become even greater in a school that has chosen a constructivist, literature-based program for teaching reading basics. By training our teachers to understand the complex processes of reading development and instruction, they become a critical part of the success equation. We know our universities do not teach everything they should, and teacher in-service opportunities are not all they should be. Teachers, almost universally dedicated and hard-working, are often burdened with a lack of information, and even some misinformation. But the knowledge is at hand to fix that. Read about the Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading, and the teacher preparation programs that have adopted them. Individual certification in the Knowledge and Practice Standards is available from the Center for Excellence in Reading Instruction (CERI). Some teachers are already getting an excellent foundation in the essential knowledge of reading foundations; we have to make sure they all do. Students deserve fully-trained teachers, and teachers deserve training that matches their hard work and dedication.
Click on the following links for examples of two quality professional development offerings, Vaughn Gross Reading Academies and Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). A recent study shows that Teach for America, not colleges of education, produces the most effective new reading teachers in Tennessee, based on student performance. Students of TFA teachers outperformed even students of veteran teachers in Tennessee.
Teacher licensing is a sensitive issue, but we know that tougher licensing has led to improved student achievement in other states. No one wants to burden teachers unnecessarily, but we have to be sure the knowledge is getting to the teachers so they can carry it to the classroom. Unfortunately, passing through the curriculum of a college of education is no assurance that the necessary information has been imparted. With an improved exam that covers the foundations of reading, we will know, and teachers themselves will know, if they have the knowledge they need. In 2012, Wisconsin followed in the footsteps of Massachusetts and Connecticut by adopting the Foundations of Reading test as a new requirement for initial licensure for teachers of reading, including special educators and reading specialists. See The Front Burner page for details. Connecticut has now taken the next step by adopting a reading knowledge survey to be taken by all current teachers on relicensure.
Outstanding, detailed, and complete state standards based on the best science of beginning reading give critical support to local districts. The best standards not only culminate in creative, 21st century skills and experiences for high school graduates, they begin with detailed, specific standards for early reading that are based on science and set the foundation for later years. The best standards in early reading give every district a head start on the rest of their work, saving everyone time and money, and better assuring that every child gets the best instruction possible. On June 2, 2010, Wisconsin adopted the Common Core Standards. Read the Common Core here. Click here for a discussion of the potential of the Common Core Standards. Click here for a side-by-side comparison of beginning reading standards in Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Schools, the Common Core, and Florida. A continuing discussion of the implementation of the Common Core in Wisconsin will be found on The Front Burner.