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No Child Left Behind: A Desktop Reference
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Reading First (I-B-1)


Reading has always been a key ingredient for students to be successful in school, yet the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows serious deficiencies in children's ability to read, particularly in high-poverty schools. Even in wealthier schools, more than a fifth of fourth-graders were unable to reach NAEP's basic level in 2000 and about two-thirds of fourth-graders in high-poverty schools were unable to reach the basic level in that year's survey. Reading First is designed to help states, school districts, and schools address this issue and to ensure that every child can read at grade level or above by the end of third grade through the implementation of instructional programs and materials, assessments, and professional development grounded in scientifically based reading research.

WHAT'S NEW--The No Child Left Behind Act

Focuses on What Works

  • Uses scientific evidence to enhance children's reading skills. Professional development, instructional programs, and materials used by a state education agency (SEA) or school district must focus on the five key areas that scientifically based reading research has identified as essential components of reading instruction-phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension.
  • Provides professional development for teachers. Reading First will provide increased teacher professional development to ensure that all teachers have the skills they need to teach scientifically based instructional programs and to effectively screen, identify and overcome reading barriers facing their students. States will have significant funds to support professional development statewide, not just to school districts receiving Reading First subgrants.

Increases Accountability for Student Performance

  • Reports on improved student performance. States must provide evidence annually on the extent to which the SEA and school districts have significantly increased the number of students reading at or above grade level.
  • Sanctions lack of improvement. If an SEA is not making sufficient progress by the end of the third year, the secretary of education may withhold all or part of the additional funds or take other actions that the secretary considers appropriate.

Closes the Achievement Gap for Disadvantaged Students

  • Targets services to districts that are low-performing and high-poverty. Eligible school districts are those in each state with the highest numbers or percentages of K-3 students reading below grade level, and include an empowerment or enterprise zone, have a significant number of schools identified for Title I improvement, or have the highest number or percentages of Title I children. States competitively award subgrants to districts, with priority given to districts that have at least 15 percent of students from families with incomes below poverty or at least 6,500 poor children.

How It Works

Reading First is a formula grant program to states based on the number of children between the ages of 5 to 17 who come from families below the poverty line. States submit an application to the U.S. Department of Education. Grants are awarded based on the recommendation of an expert review panel selected by the Department, the National Institute for Literacy, the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. SEAs receiving grant awards will then make competitive grants to eligible school districts. SEAs must make subgrants of sufficient size and scope to enable local districts to improve reading instruction. The amount of the award will be related to each local school district's share of the state's Title I, Part A, funds distributed during the preceding fiscal year, and to the number or percent of K-3 students in the district reading below grade level.

Key Requirements

In addition to developing a process by which to award competitive subgrants, SEAs must develop a plan for how they will assist districts in using scientifically based reading research to improve reading instruction and raise student achievement. States must provide technical assistance to school districts to help them identify instructional assessments, programs, and materials. States also must develop a statewide professional development strategy to improve instructional practices for reading while ensuring coordination among other literacy programs in the state. In addition, the state must develop strategies for evaluating Reading First.

How It Achieves Quality

Reading First will ensure quality by focusing on what works and providing the support needed by SEAs and districts to use the scientifically based reading research to improve reading instruction in kindergarten through third grade. SEAs receiving Reading First grants will support quality by providing professional development that ensures each K-3 teacher will have the skills necessary to teach scientifically based instructional programs and to use screening, diagnostic, and classroom-based assessments to measure where students are and to monitor their progress. School districts and schools will select instructional programs and materials that support the essential components of reading, leading to a comprehensive reading program. Finally, quality will be achieved as the SEAs and districts provide continuous monitoring and reporting to give feedback on how well schools, districts and the state as a whole are progressing toward meeting their goals of having all children reading on grade level by the end of third grade.

How Performance Is Measured

The goal of the program is for all children to read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. In order to determine if progress is being made toward the goal, each SEA is required to report annually on the progress of local school districts, including identifying districts that are significantly increasing the number of children who read at or above grade level. Beginning in fiscal year 2004, targeted assistance grants will be available on a competitive basis to SEAs that demonstrate an increase in student achievement related to the Reading First program. At the completion of the third year, SEAs must send a midpoint report to the secretary describing their progress toward meeting the goal. There are consequences for not making sufficient progress. The expert panel convened to review state applications will review these progress reports. SEAs that are not making significant progress may lose all or part of the remaining funds or be subject to other actions deemed appropriate by the secretary.

Key Activities For The State Education Agencies

State education agencies must:

  • Identify eligible school districts and develop a process by which to award subgrants to them. The process must clearly describe the selection criteria.
  • Develop and implement a statewide program of professional development for teachers, including special education teachers, for kindergarten through grade 3 that will prepare them to teach all of the essential components of reading instruction.
  • Provide technical assistance to local districts in selecting and implementing instructional programs and materials based on scientifically based reading research, selecting screening, diagnostic, and classroom based assessment instruments and identifying eligible professional development providers.
  • Submit annual reports to the secretary on the implementation of the program and student achievement outcomes.
  • Submit a midpoint report that identifies districts that are making progress to increase the number and percentage of students reading at or above grade level, as well as the statewide progress toward this goal. This interim report is due 60 days after the end of the third year.
  • Establish a Reading Leadership Team that will assist in the oversight of the SEA's Reading First program.

In addition to the specific state requirements, the local school districts have a number of requirements that the SEA is responsible for monitoring.

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Last Modified: 09/14/2007