School Committees

Promoting Literacy for All Students

Image used with permission by Dr. Fumiko Hoeft


Issue 3: Addressing Reading Challenges

The graphic below, called Scarborough's Reading Rope, describes the sub-skills involved in reading. When students struggle or have deficits in the sub-skills of reading, students will struggle to comprehend text. Dyslexic students struggle with the lower strands initially, but over time can also have problems with the upper-strands because they are not reading as much as their peers because of decoding struggles. Students who are emergent bi-lingual students or students with language disabilities often struggle with the upper-strands of the rope. It is important to have data that tweaks out the sub-skills so students are getting targeted and appropriate reading interventions.

Lack of teacher preparation in the science of reading, which is a body of research that explains how children learn to read, has been a contributing factor to stagnant reading proficiency rates across the country. Curriculum alone will not be the solution, there are no silver bullets; however, instructional practices that align with evidence increases the chances of a child becoming a proficient reader. Instructional practices that align with belief systems, will make reading a privilege, especially for our most vulnerable students. Please view the Assessing & Addressing Dyslexia Section to understand the profiles of struggling readers.

  • Schools are not screening effectively for sub-skills that can be predictors of future reading challenges.

  • Many schools use weak curriculum that does not align with cognitive science. This will only increase the numbers of students in need of reading interventions and can be devastating for children with reading disabilities.

  • Watch this short video to understand more about dyslexia and why it is important to identify students on the dyslexic spectrum.

  • A common problem that occurs for dyslexic students is that the underlying deficits that cause these students to struggle to read were never properly identified. Reading interventions are not targeting the right deficits to allow students to become fluent readers. Students instead are forced to compensate while they read which is exhausting and ineffective.

  • Response to Intervention is a process schools use to provide interventions for students with learning and behavior needs. MTSS is a framework that provide targeted support to struggling students focusing on the "whole child." RTI/MTSS frameworks are not using evidence-based interventions for students with word-level reading challenges/dyslexia. Many unidentified dyslexic students cycle in and out of the RTI/MTSS framework as a result.

  • Districts fear identifying dyslexic students may be too costly. Schools also fear increasing the number of students identified with a specific learning disability. Districts may also be aware that they lack the ability to provide appropriate reading interventions (reading specialists are not trained in structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham), so they avoid using the term dyslexia because they fear lawsuits. Schools have a legal obligation under IDEA to find and identify students with a learning disability, this is called Child Find. Parents should not have to spend money on lawyers and private tutors to ensure their child can learn to read. This is not equitable and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools do not diagnose dyslexia, but school districts consider whether a student meets diagnostic criteria for dyslexia.

  • Avoiding early intervention and waiting for a child to fail in later grades has many consequences. Research shows, that screening, reading instruction that aligns with the cognitive processes involved in reading, and evidence-based reading interventions can reduce costs (see graphic on top of the page). Catch all struggling readers and intervene at the start! Schools should not wait for a child to be diagnosed with a reading disability. This is not equitable.

  • Teachers were not taught that dyslexia is on the lower-end of the literacy continuum. The strategies dyslexic students need are the same that all students need to attain automaticity with word-level reading, dyslexic students will need more exposures and greater intensity to map words like typical readers. The trouble occurs when a student experiences a literacy curriculum that does not include a structured literacy component.

  • Districts buy a boxed intervention or program without investing in teacher training and knowledge.

  • Waiting for children to fall behind their peers impacts a student's social emotional well being.

  • Parents are being told dyslexia is a medical diagnosis, this is false.

  • Schools will not use the term dyslexia and do not explain to parents that dyslexia falls under Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in basic reading and/or fluency under the federal IDEA legislation. By avoiding the term, parents may not have access to important resources to help their child.

  • Special Education programs do not train teachers in Structured Literacy, yet dyslexic students are the largest group classified as having a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). When students do get an IEP for a specific learning disability, they are placed with a teacher who is not trained to meet their needs.

  • Not all schools have a reading or literacy specialist. Some schools have reading specialists, but they are not trained in Structured Literacy/Orton-Gillingham approach for word-level reading instruction.

Popular Reading Programs Do No Align with Cognitive Science

Warning: Many intervention programs and core curricula programs are now incorporating terms like "explicit, phonics, orthographic mapping" to protect their product as more states are establishing more stringent criteria for reading curriculum and interventions. Our best advice is for districts to reach out for training on scientifically-based reading instruction. Please see the Teacher PD tab for suggestions.

A meta-analysis comparing intervention studies of at least 100 sessions reported larger effect sizes in kindergarten and first grade than in the later grades. Furthermore, a meta-analysis across six studies revealed that when at-risk beginning readers received explicit and intensive instruction, 50 to 90% of these children reached average reading performance levels (Torgesen, 2004).