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Beyond Problematic Literacy Programs: Helping Our Children Read

Two statistics about the current state of our U.S. education system should give us all pause. Statistic Number One: Children who read proficiently by third grade are more likely to complete high school and beyond. Statistic Number Two: Only 37% of fourth grade students have achieved that necessary level of reading proficiency.

37% is a startling number to take in. Only slightly over a third of our children are learning how to read at the proper level. Such disturbing statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress demonstrate an overall systemic deficiency in how we’re teaching our children to read, a fact underscored by a lawsuit brought against California a little over a year ago. The lawsuit declares the state simply isn’t doing enough to ensure students are acquiring the reading skills they need to succeed in adult life.

There is no doubt, however, parents in every state should be concerned about this ongoing and crucial failing in our nation’s classrooms. Yes, various literacy programs have been created to address the situation, but many have also proven to be problematic in their approach.

How problematic? Recently, education expert Dr. Mike Schmoker articulated the teaching community’s concerns in a commentary in Education Week. Its overall verdict was not a pretty one. In Dr. Schmoker’s words, “One highly respected expert told me that not one of these literacy programs meets the criteria most essential to English/language arts and literacy curricula.”

Results matter, as Schmoker also notes. Any program designed to improve performance should have a robust evidence base, demonstrating its success. If there is no yardstick for accurately measuring a program’s success, we’re essentially gambling with our children’s education by implementing it. That’s the kind of blind bet we should always avoid.

It’s also crucial to give teachers access to multiple grade-level materials so they can challenge and engage kids with varying reading proficiency levels. After all, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer and can easily result in either some students being left behind, or others failing to reach their potential.

As educators, we should focus on one all-important outcome — to ensure every student can successfully read by the end of third grade. Our research at Learning Ovations on the merits of individualized instruction, coupled with coordination from U.S. Department of Education, demonstrates the most successful effort begin by acknowledging each child is different and should be learning through a reading program tailored to their specific needs.

There is a logical three-step process to accomplish this:

  • Step One: Create ongoing progress monitoring of students’ individual reading proficiency levels throughout the school year. This ensures a child is using materials appropriate to their reading grade level and is on track to make desired improvements. It can be accomplished on line in short 10 to 15 min highly reliable small group activities without teacher involvement.

  • Step Two: Use data-driven recommendations for structuring reading groups of students at similar levels, as well as scheduling the proper amount of instruction time for each group.

  • Step Three: Provide customized teaching materials designed to consistently improve reading skills for each child, while also, of course, meeting the requirements of the school district’s teaching curriculum.

This is the approach we took on at Learning Ovations to design our A2i Professional Support System. A2i proactively uses technology to generate hard data empowering educators to address their students’ individual reading challenges. A2i also provides the necessary teaching materials to spark an increase in every child’s literacy skills in the K-3 learning space.

And finally, because we do track the progress of every one of our students as they progress through this system, our hard data has determined 94% of students who use A2i achieve literacy outcomes at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

With a focus on both individual student growth and proficiency, these students, even in high-need districts, are averaging fifth grade reading rates. Ready for STEM opportunities, they possess a 90% higher likelihood of graduating high school.

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