NCLB PROVEN METHODS
Questions and Answers on No Child Left Behind -- Reading
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What's the current situation--how well are America's children reading?
What is the key to turning this situation around?

Why is it so important for children to learn good reading skills in the early years of school?

What is being done to help children learn to read well by the end of the third grade?

How does Reading First work, and what are the specific goals?

How will we know if Reading First is working?

Does No Child Left Behind support programs to help children build language and pre-reading skills before they start kindergarten?





What's the current situation--how well are America's children reading?
Our students are not reading nearly well enough. As mentioned earlier, results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress on reading showed that only 32 percent of the nation's fourth-graders performed at or above the proficient achievement level, thus demonstrating solid academic performance. And, while scores for the highest-performing students have improved over time, those of America's lowest-performing students have declined (National Assessment of Educational Progress 2001).

What is the key to turning this situation around?
Research has consistently identified the critical skills that young students need to learn in order to become good readers (National Reading Panel 2000). Teachers across different states and districts have demonstrated that scientifically based reading instruction can and does work with all children. They have taught children--even those among the most difficult to educate--to become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Thus, the key to helping all children learn is to help teachers in each and every classroom benefit from the relevant research. That can be accomplished by providing professional development for teachers on the use of scientifically based reading programs; by the use of instructional materials and programs that are also based on sound scientific research; and by ensuring accountability through ongoing assessments.

Why is it so important for children to learn good reading skills in the early years of school?
Research shows that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years; and those who fall behind often stay behind when it comes to academic achievement (Snow, Burns and Griffin 1998). Reading opens the door to learning about math, history, science, literature, geography and much more. Thus, young, capable readers can succeed in these subjects, take advantage of other opportunities (such as reading for pleasure) and develop confidence in their own abilities. On the other hand, those students who cannot read well are much more likely to drop out of school and be limited to low-paying jobs throughout their lives. Reading is undeniably critical to success in today's society.

What is being done to help children learn to read well by the end of the third grade?
Improving the reading skills of children is a top priority for leaders at all levels of government and business, as well as for parents, teachers and countless citizens who volunteer at reading programs across the nation. At the national level, No Child Left Behind reflects this concern with the new program called Reading First. It is an ambitious national initiative designed to help every young child in every state become a successful reader. It is based on the expectation that instructional decisions for all students will be guided by the best available research. In recent years, scientific research has provided tremendous insight into exactly how children learn to read and the essential components for effective reading instruction. Reading First builds on this solid foundation of research.

How does Reading First work, and what are the specific goals?
Under Reading First, states can receive significant federal funding to improve reading achievement. In 2003 alone, almost $994 million is available for this program. These funds are specifically dedicated to helping states and local school districts establish high-quality, comprehensive reading instruction for all children in kindergarten through third grade. High-quality programs are, by definition, based on solid scientific research.

Awards for Reading First follow a straightforward, two-step process:

  • First, each state applies for Reading First money that is then distributed on the basis of the number of low-income children aged 5-17 who live in the state. A major way in which states use their funds is to organize a scientifically based professional development program for all teachers, in grades K-3.
  • The bulk of state funds, however, go to districts and schools to meet students' instructional needs. Districts with the greatest needs compete for funds in state-run competitions, with priority given to those with high rates of poverty and reading failure. Once funds reach the districts, Reading First monies are flexible and can be used for diagnostic assessments to determine which students in grades K-3 are at risk of reading failure; for teacher professional development; to purchase reading materials; and for ongoing support to improve reading instruction.

Through Reading First, funds are made available for state and local early reading programs that are grounded in scientifically based research. In such programs, students are systematically and explicitly taught the following five skills identified by research as critical to early reading success. The definitions below are from the Report of the National Reading Panel (2000):

  • Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear and identify sounds in spoken words.
  • Phonics: the relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language.
  • Fluency: the capacity to read text accurately and quickly.
  • Vocabulary: the words students must know to communicate effectively.
  • Comprehension: the ability to understand and gain meaning from what has been read.

How will we know if Reading First is working?
Information to make that judgment will come from the states. No Child Left Behind requires each state to: (1) prepare an annual report showing the greatest gains in reading achievement; (2) reduce the number of children in grades 1-3 who are reading below grade level; and (3) increase the percentage of children overall who are reading at grade level or above. In order to fulfill these requirements, states must measure progress in reading skills for children in grades 1-2; and, as prescribed by No Child Left Behind, states have to ensure that all children in grades 3-8 are tested annually in reading. Results of these assessments should soon provide clear evidence of Reading First's effectiveness. There is good cause for confidence, since the programs and practices that Reading First supports must already have been demonstrated as effective, based on solid scientific research.

Through Reading First funds, grants will be available for state and local programs in which students are systematically and explicitly taught five key early reading skills:

  • Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds - or phonemes - in spoken words
  • Phonics: the relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language
  • Fluency: the capacity to read text accurately and quickly
  • Vocabulary: the words students must know to communicate effectively
  • Comprehension: the ability to understand and gain meaning from what has been read

Does No Child Left Behind support programs to help children build language and pre-reading skills before they start kindergarten?
Yes. Early Reading First supports preschool programs that provide a high-quality education to young children, especially those from low-income families. While early childhood programs are important for children's social, emotional and physical development, they are also important for children's early cognitive and language development. Research stresses the importance of early reading skills, including phonemic awareness and vocabulary development, as described above. Early Reading First supports programs to help preschoolers improve these skills. These programs can include professional development of staff and identifying and providing activities and instructional material. Programs must be grounded in scientifically based research, and their success must continually be evaluated.

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Last Modified: 09/02/2003