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School Failure in Students Who Don't Read by First Grade

by Sara Ipatenco

Most children who don't read early enough in their school career struggle through the rest of their education years, according to Reading Rockets, a website funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, most first-graders who are poor readers continue to be poor readers for the rest of their lives. That's why reading instruction is crucial during first grade and why immediate intervention is essential when a student fails to measure up. A clear understanding of the problem, as well as effective reading strategies will help prevent first-graders from falling through the cracks of literacy education.

Early Reading Facts

According to the United Way, 73 percent of Americans believe that children entering kindergarten unprepared to read will catch up in later years. This assumption is false, and in fact, the opposite is true. The statistics and research suggest that out of 50 first-graders who struggle with reading, 44 of them will still be struggling in fourth grade, also according to the United Way. This occurs because when first-graders spend all of their literacy time trying to catch up to their peers, they continue missing crucial reading lessons and practice. This adds up over time to a child that simply can't read at grade level. If it continues through fourth grade, it becomes an even bigger problem because this is when students begin reading to learn rather than learning to read, the Children's Reading Foundation reports.

Types of Reading Problems

First-graders struggling to read often have problems with phonics and lack a clear understanding of the sounds that individual letters make, as well as problems with letter blends such as "sh" and "ing." According to the Reading Rockets website, identifying first-graders who can't sound out letters is the first step in improving literacy skills. This is done with phonological tests such as the "Woodcock Reading Mastery Test" or the "Phonological Awareness Test." Reading comprehension is another piece of the puzzle that's often lacking in children who struggle to read. When a first-grader spends so much time sounding out each word, she isn't able to understand what she's reading. Comprehension is a key component of learning to read because if a student doesn't understand what she's reading, she won't be able to read to learn as she gets older.

What Works

Many programs exist that aim to teach early elementary students how to read well. For example, Reading First, a literacy program from the U.S. Department of Education, uses assessment and intervention strategies to ensure that all students are proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Increased focus on reading practice and reading comprehension are essential as well, according to the Reading Rockets website. This might take the form of one-on-one reading practice, tutoring, pull-out programs and increased literacy time built into the classroom curriculum. Early assessment is crucial, as well. Educators must test first-grade students early in the school year so students who need additional help can be identified and helped before it's too late.

Home Strategies

Parent support is another crucial aspect of learning to read. According to the "American Spectator," children who are read to at home, as well as who practice their own reading skills usually do better at school. Required reading homework helps struggling readers get extra practice, but it also allows parents to give them one-on-one help with sounding out words and reading for comprehension. The United Way suggests that getting books into the hands of early readers is a powerful way to improve literacy. Teachers might send books home with students or make use the school library to ensure that the first-graders have access to quality books that help develop their reading skills.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

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