The Ability To Read Is Critical To A Child’s Future Success

The Ability To Read Is Critical To A Child's Future Success

Reading affects every aspect of a student’s learning, from the ability to listen and comprehend a story in preschool to the acquisition and exercise of critical reading and comprehension skills in elementary, middle, and high school; to the successful application of reading as part of one’s life skills as a young and aging adult. Because reading is essential to other content acquisition, ensuring that early learners have a strong foundation in reading has been a major focus of recent U.S. education initiatives.

Although the ability to read is critical to a child’s future success, recent reading assessments have shown less-than-stellar results. 36 percent of the nation’s fourth graders failed to demonstrate they are capable of reading at a basic level and approximately 19 percent of school children in the United States encounter significant difficulties in learning to read. Many, but not all, reading disabilities can be traced to obvious risk factors (e.g., physical, environmental, and psychological); these difficulties often occur in disproportionate levels among children who are poor, racial minorities, and nonnative speakers of English.

Inadequate reading ability can diminish a student’s acquisition of the knowledge and skills embedded in the general education curriculum and result in reduced or limited learning outcomes. Reading difficulties may also lead to other problems, such as a lack of motivation and engagement, high levels of anxiety, and misbehavior in the classroom. Further, 39 percent of students receiving special education services were identified as having a disability because of their inability to read.

Because reading is so essential to the ability of students with disabilities to gain access the general education curriculum and improve their content knowledge and life skills, we are developing resources that can help state and district technical assistance providers, state and local administrators and policy makers, educators, and parents learn more about reading programs, practices, and research to enhance reading outcomes for children with disabilities.

This brief outlines arguments for the importance of early reading; orients the reader to some of the more widely disseminated and influential reading research undertaken to date; provides information about current federal legislation and guidelines that are intended to positively affect reading goals, instructional approaches, and student outcomes; and reviews a series of issues pertinent to reading interventions and the conditions needed to support “access” for students with disabilities.

Students who do not “learn to read” during the first three years of school experience enormous difficulty when they are subsequently asked to “read to learn”. This quote underscores the reason that reading is of such great importance — reading is the primary way students are asked to learn information in the various content areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Therefore, when students cannot read, or struggle to learn to read, their ability to learn other subject matter and achieve at grade level is severely limited. To ensure sustained access to the general education curriculum, then, it is imperative that students attain solid reading skills in the early grades.

How can state education agencies, school administrators, and teachers support student acquisition of solid reading skills? One important way is through quality classroom instruction of skill-appropriate content. From kindergarten through third grade, the majority of classroom instruction focuses on learning to read and developing children’s understanding of the written symbols for the oral language they have been exposed to since birth. Beginning in the fourth grade, the instructional purpose and focus shifts to helping students use the reading skills they have been taught to acquire new content knowledge. The older a child gets, the more that solid reading comprehension and higher-order thinking skills are required to complete complex and often demanding assignments. Students who experience early reading failure are unlikely to ever catch up to grade level expectations.

We focus on the following specific aspects of reading instruction: alphabetics (including phonemic awareness and phonics), fluency, comprehension (i.e., vocabulary, text comprehension, strategies for comprehension, and teacher preparation), teacher education and reading instruction, and computer technology and reading instruction. Specific aspects of reading instruction led to improvement in reading performance. For example, the research shows that teaching students phonemic awareness led to improvement in phonemic awareness, reading, and spelling. Similarly, systematic phonics instruction was found to be significantly more effective than instruction that includes little to no phonics. Benefits of phonics instruction were seen for students in kindergarten through sixth grade as well as for children who had difficulty learning to read. Specifically, kindergarteners that received systematic beginning phonics instruction read and spelled better than other children, and first graders decoded and spelled words better than those who did not receive such instruction. In studies on older children, results showed that phonics instruction also improved their spelling and decoding skills, but not necessarily their comprehension. Guided repeated oral reading had a significant impact on word recognition, reading fluency, and comprehension for students of all ages.

Efforts to build vocabulary and develop strategies for comprehending vocabulary in text are also important for reading comprehension, especially when vocabulary words are taught directly as well as indirectly through a variety of methods and used repeatedly across many contexts. Teaching students through a combination of reading comprehension techniques (e.g., question answering, question generation, and summarization) led to better performance in recall, answering questions, generating questions, and summarizing texts.

Ensuring early reading success for all students is not an easy task. However, most student reading problems can be prevented through effective instruction in kindergarten and early elementary school when what is known from research is translated and implemented in the classroom.

There are a host of reasons for students having difficulty acquiring reading skills. The basic foundations for literacy can affect early reading, including physical, environmental, and psychological risk factors; concentration problems; hearing or vision impairment; lack of interest or motivation to read; or limited access to books. All these factors may complicate reading proficiency. Although the reasons for early reading difficulty are varied and individualized, no one reading program or approach is effective in treating each student’s individual needs. Instead, the research suggests that high quality—and often personalized—approaches to teaching reading are necessary and that early intervention is much more effective than later intervention or remediation. The gap that separates children who are at risk for reading failure and children who are likely to be successful readers is smaller in the early grades, and conditions are most ripe for addressing this gap during these early years.

To fully understand the issues involved in implementing reading interventions for students with disabilities, educators should look at recent federal legislation calling for improved educational access, content, and instruction in early reading. All students, including (but not limited to) those with disabilities or who may be considered at risk for academic failure, must receive the opportunity to obtain an education that allows them to demonstrate academic success.

All students must read at least at the third grade level by the time they complete the third grade. The initiative seeks to provide funding to states willing to improve K–3 reading instruction using scientifically based research. As a result, many states have applied for these funds and are working to improve their teaching and learning systems through research-based materials and practices.

This focus highlights the priority of improving early reading development and the importance of helping all students effectively engage in the general education curriculum. However, despite these efforts, some students may still struggle and require more intensive and specialized education and related services. Students with special learning needs will be supported by accommodations designed to address their individual disability. Every student should receive high quality instruction that supports early reading development, but effective supports, technology, and accomodations are often needed to help students with special needs achieve their full potential.

Effective reading interventions can help students with disabilities more effectively engage in learning general education content. Still, reading programs will not reach all students if appropriate supports are not in place. Administrators, policy makers, and educators thinking about implementing a research-based reading intervention should become grounded in the theory and features of the intervention. Once knowledge is attained at a sufficient level, a framework of access-related issues should be explored and applied to the educational settings. This involves the following steps:

– Ask questions about the research base supporting using interventions specifically for students with disabilities. Questions should begin to probe more deeply what research says about implementing the interventions for students with varying types of disabilities.

– What conditions appear to be facilitating or restricting implementation?

– Make sure the following conditions are present to support access: a) the intervention will support the learning goals defined for each student in accordance with the general education curriculum and content standards; b) necessary media, technology, and materials are available to provide instruction through a variety of formats to meet the demands of diverse learning needs; c) appropriate accommodations are available to address the unique needs associated with individual students; and d) appropriate assessments are available for measuring student progress.

Following the access framework will enable states and districts to become more aware of the conditions that should be present to effectively reach diverse learners and become effective consumers of research-based reading interventions.

This brief has focused on the importance of early reading success for educational achievement in general. Research is cited to support these arguments and to provide a brief introduction to current legislation supporting reading interventions for improved outcomes, as well as accountability for the outcomes of students with disabilities. In addition, using the research base on effective reading interventions to guide implementation of such interventions for improving student reading is important. However, these research based interventions are only effective when implemented with consistency and fidelity and when critical issues related to access and context have been acknowledged and addressed.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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