Inadequate Diagnosis of Reading Problems Detailed

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Schools in New York state are failing to diagnose and correct reading problems early enough to ensure students success in school, a survey by the states largest teachers union concludes.

"By not diagnosing reading problems early on--and then failing to provide remedial help in time--many schools unintentionally harm children by promoting them even when they don't read well enough to succeed," a report on the survey results says.

The survey, released in Washington last week, was conducted by the New York State United Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In a representative sampling of the approximately 65,000 K-4 teachers in the state, more than 95 percent of the 500-plus teachers responding to the telephone survey agreed that remediation and intervention for children with potential reading problems should begin in the 1st grade or earlier.

Yet, one in five respondents said that their schools don't have effective programs to analyze and correct reading problems until the 2nd or 3rd grade.

"We are not doing very well [in addressing these problems]; we could be doing a much better job," Karen K. Nelson, a 2nd grade teacher at Westmoreland Elementary School in a rural district outside Utica, said in an interview last week.

"The problems are being diagnosed by classroom teachers, but the school district doesn't always have enough resources for preventative measures. It's a fight and struggle to get services in the early grades."

Need for Standards

The problem appears to be most critical in New York City, where 49 percent of 2nd graders and 39 percent of 3rd graders are reading below grade level, according to respondents and state and local test scores. In the rest of the state, 30 percent of 2nd graders and 28 percent of 3rd graders are not reading at grade level.

Union officials say part of the problem is the lack of standards in reading throughout much of New York.

While most teachers agreed that specific indicators are needed to outline what children are expected to learn in reading at various grade levels, some 40 percent of the teachers said that their schools have no such guides.

"Absent an elementary core curriculum that sets standards in reading, we have large variations from district to district, and it's not as coordinated from grade to grade as we would like," said Antonia Cortese, the union's first vice president.

"We have to do a more intense job of ensuring reading success in the early grades."

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