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Why Are First Graders Reading Below Their Grade Levels?

by Van Thompson

A first grader who reads below grade level is at a marked disadvantage, and teachers might have to spend additional time helping the child catch up. Children who don't read at grade level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, according to a 2011 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Helping children overcome reading deficits in first grade can ensure they will catch up in the early school years, but to properly assist students, you'll need to know the cause of their reading challenges.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities often become apparent in the early school years, as children face more challenging tasks. Dyslexia, which interferes with children's ability to read words in the correct order, is a common cause of reading difficulties. Disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can interfere with a child's ability to focus and concentrate, undermining the ability to read. Speech disorders and even problems with eye movement can make it extremely challenging for children to pronounce the words they're reading or track passages correctly with their eyes.

Lack of Exposure

First grade reading abilities build upon skills children learn in kindergarten and preschool, such as memorizing the alphabet, understanding the sounds of words, and understanding the relationships between words and letters. Children are more likely to be interested in and good at reading when parents and other caregivers read to them from an early age. Without this early exposure and education, children may struggle.

Poverty

Environmental issues in the family of origin can affect children’s ability to read. The Annie E. Casey Foundation points out that children from low-income families are particularly likely to struggle. This could be due to family stress or because their parents tend to spend less time on reading-related activities. They may also be unable to afford books, workbooks and other reading tools.

Language Skills

Reading requires students to be able to comprehend basic English words. Children with a small vocabulary or whose parents do not speak English well are at an increased risk of having reading problems, according to a 2010 study published in the "Journal of Educational Psychology." For these children, basic communication skills may help them develop reading skills, and frequent conversation can help bridge the gap. The Annie E. Casey Foundation emphasizes that low-income children often attend poorly performing schools, which may exacerbate their reading difficulties.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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