What Can We Do, When Children Don’t Read at the Grade Level?

homeschool-952791_960_720Sixty six percent of all U.S. fourth graders scored “below proficient” on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reading test, meaning that they are not reading at grade level  Even more alarming is the fact that among students from low-income backgrounds, 80 percent score below grade level in reading. (studentsfirst.org)

By the time students get to 5th and 6th grade, they can read the text somewhat proficiently, but less than 1/3 of them can explain what they just read. This is why fluency tests are not at all a valid indicator of students’ reading ability.

We want kids to read so that they can learn. Still, reading to learn is a skill that needs to be taught and developed. Students need to be able to actively interact with text on their own. They need to ask themselves questions about what makes sense and what doesn’t. They need to learn how to go about figuring out context and connecting their prior knowledge to text at hand. At the same time, students need rich vocabulary, which when absent, greatly impedes learning.

A whole set of reading skills need to be tackled before students are ready to master reading comprehension, and by the time they come to 5th grade and they are three grade levels behind in reading, learning grade level content becomes very challenging.

Of course, many would blame this situation on teachers. Teachers are always at fault. In an average classroom (not advanced), numbers of students who read below grade level is about 70%. Students can be from 1 to 4 years behind in reading on grade level. Catching up isn’t impossible, but it is a major effort.

When I walked into 5th grade last year, I was given 9 students in need of reading intervention. Some where retained more than a year, others failed 3rd grade reading state exam and were still at the 2nd grade reading level. Others were reading a couple of years behind and slipped through without ever getting needed attention and remidiation. Keep in mind that every teacher already has hands full managing 20 plus students. Reading success doesn’t come overnight. It’s a process, that involves all parties, students, teachers, and parents.

So, now that the school year is coming to an end, even though all students made progress, we are still not where we need to be. Summer does us no favor. Students who are low in reading are at risk of slipping even lower. It is time for parents (myself included) to continue reading every day, possibly along with the kids. Reading different types of text, magazines, comics, chapter books, NY Times articles, it all counts.

The only way for students to understand text is to have a lot of prior reading experience with a variety of readings. From vocabulary, content, to ability to question and predict. Reading is a complex activity that evolves out of experience with other readings.

Libraries are free. Ask about summer reading programs if you are in Title I school.
Find tutors in your area.
Decode Learning tutoring has teacher tutors in every area of the country.
Use this summer to your child’s advantage.

Happy Reading!
Mrs. Lena, M.Ed.

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