Early-grades reading instruction has long been a central point of emphasis—and concern—for educators and policymakers.
That’s in large part owing to a provocative body of research showing that students who don’t read with proficiency by the end of 3rd grade are far more likely to experience poor academic outcomes, including leaving school without a diploma. Early-grades reading skills, in other words, are often seen as a key indicator of educational achievement.
By that standard, many U.S. schools have struggled to give students adequate pathways. On the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, only 35 percent of 4th graders scored at or above “proficient” in reading. The rate was considerably lower for minority students—18 percent for blacks and 20 percent for Hispanics. Meanwhile, the average NAEP reading score for 4th graders has increased only minimally over the past decade.
This Education Week special report takes a wide-ranging look at new efforts to address the challenges of early-grades reading instruction, particularly in light of the waning influence of the federal Reading First program. While that initiative, launched in 2002, drew praise for providing some $1 billion annually to expand reading instruction and professional development and support for teachers, it was criticized by many teachers and reading experts for focusing too narrowly on basic skills. A number of the stories highlight the growing impact of the Common Core State Standards, whose early-grades reading expectations often diverge from previous instructional systems.
Scanning the changing landscape of literacy instruction, the report explores new thinking on time-honored practices such as read-alouds, teaching vocabulary, and developing reading fluency; details school-community efforts to boost early-reading skills; dives into recent research on the potentially negative effects of focusing too rigidly on 3rd graders’ reading proficiency; and looks at an Alabama professional-development program that has shown promise in boosting achievement across racial categories, in part through a combination of consistency and responsiveness to change.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as A Note From the Editors