Poor Literacy Rates: Issues and Solutions
Thirty-two percent of fourth-grade students scored in the below basic reading level of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. Department of Education, 2019, p.91). Additionally, The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (2017) reports that 1 in 5 individuals are dyslexic. The consequences of illiteracy and low literacy are tragic. Over 75% of those who drop out of high school attribute their decision to difficulties in reading (Lyon, 2003). These individuals are twice as likely to live in poverty and 63 times more likely to be incarcerated (Breslow, 2012).
To find long term solutions that prevent staggering numbers of individuals from struggling to read, particular consideration must be given to two main issues. One is that many school districts are exceptionally hard pressed to meet the demands of funding special education (“Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Cost Impact,” 2015). After decades of federal, state, and local budgetary constraints, the need for high quality, lower cost solutions is clear (Petrilli, 2012).
The second major issue in addressing poor literacy rates is that schools must select proven interventions and provide them earlier (Hamilton & Glascoe, 2006: 2083; Lyon, 1996; Sanfilippo, Ness, Petscher, Rappaport, Zuckerman, & Gaab, 2019). In their meta study analysis, The National Reading Panel (U.S. Department of Education, 2005) definitively concluded that the provision of explicit training in phonemic awareness and phonics substantially increases reading achievement. They suggested that this should be one of the key considerations in the teaching of reading for early readers in general. To address problems experienced by most disadvantaged readers, Hamilton and Glascoe (2006: 2083) are among numerous experts who further specify that programs must “use detailed and intensive approaches emphasizing” these skill areas (2006: 2083). Other evidence also points to the need for multisensory and mnemonic approaches to maximize effectiveness and ensure inclusivity (International Dyslexia Association, 2017, pp. 8-9). Unfortunately, many early literacy programs do not incorporate adequate levels of the kind of explicit phonetic and inclusive instruction that is recommended (Denton, Fletcher, Taylor, Barth, & Vaughn, 2014; Kilpatrick, 2015; Sanfilippo et al., 2019). This is surprising, as early interventions prescribed by researchers can prevent minor disabilities from becoming major ones that are far more difficult to remediate and that reduce the likelihood of success (Lyon, 1996; Allington, 2011, pp.40-5). It is also important to emphasize that explicit instruction in phonological awareness and phonics has universal value and is advantageous to MOST ALL beginning readers.
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