Reading on the lawn

A 2012 study, Double Jeopardy: How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation makes explicit that high school graduation rates are dramatically impacted by reading level at the end of third grade, an effect compounded by poverty. That study and dozens since then prompt parents to look for ways to help their children succeed as readers and stay on track with their educations.

In a recent post published by, “How to Support Your Kids’ Reading Skills Based on Their Current Reading Level” Lindsay Barrett makes four points to encourage reading:

  1. Measuring a child’s reading skill is complex
  2. Ask questions
  3. Instead of choosing a specific reading level, prioritize children’s interests and opportunity to make choices
  4. Introduce opportunities to read together, even after he/she can read independently

Melissa Farrall, Program Manager for Evaluations at the Stern Center for Language and Learning and author of All About Tests and Assessments;
Second Edition
agrees that reading is complex and emphasizes that it requires children to integrate a variety of different skills in order to understand the words on a page.

While reading levels may serve as a general indicator, they do not provide enough information about a child’s profile as a reader, and what types of texts might be beneficial for them to practice or even what type of instruction they should have. Not all children learn to read in the same way.

About one third of the population learns to read without any conscious effort. They have been genetically equipped to associate sounds in words with how we represent them in print. The middle third of the population benefits from direct systematic instruction in reading and spelling; they may, however, experience some road bumps along the way, and their spelling may not develop as it should. The lower third of the population will find reading to be a struggle. They do not have an understanding of the code of print. For them, each word is novel. Because they do not perceive individual sounds in words, the logic of how words are spelled may elude them.

This underlying skill, which is called phoneme awareness, is one of the most important skills for learning to read. Children with this skill generally learn to read with ease. Those without it will struggle. It is as simple as that.

When talking with your child’s teacher(s), a reading level will provide you with a general sense of whether your child is reading as well as his or her classmates or whether he or she is behind.

If your child is reading on grade level and he or she is reading with fluency, then you have a wide range of texts that will permit you to foster a love of reading and help develop your child’s vocabulary and knowledge of the world.

Farrall cautions that, if, however, your child is behind or even considered to be marginal in his or her skill, it is important to start asking questions about the type of reading instruction that your child is receiving and whether he or she requires support.

You want to know, for example, whether your child has a good grasp of sound patterns in words.
You may also want to know whether your child has a command of the rules for sound-symbol correspondence.

Reading for meaning presumes that children can apply their word recognition and phonics skills with accuracy and automaticity. It is, after all, hard to focus on the meaning when one is not certain what the word is.

Children with delays in reading, even those who are in first grade, are at risk for reading failure and difficulty in school, and they warrant a prompt and evidence-based response to their challenges which will make the logic of print readily apparent to them.

They may need additional instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics and spelling. Spelling, by the way, is related to reading and how well children spell can provide important information regarding their nature of their difficulties. Some children will need additional work in their vocabulary, language skills, and background knowledge. Each child is different and those differences may warrant different types of reading instruction. Research tells us that all children benefit from a structured language approach in a directly taught, multi-sensory reading program.

As parents, you can begin a dialogue with your child’s teachers not just about reading levels, but about what you observe and hear when your child reads.

Reading levels are just the beginning, and we need to ensure that children with all kinds of minds are provided the instruction that they need to become readers and develop their thinking skills.

If, at any point, you’re concerned about your child’s ability to read, write, or spell, we would recommend speaking with his or her teacher or pediatrician. Also, we would suggest getting an evaluation to rule out any underlying causes or concerns. Additionally, if seeking individualized, explicit instruction, we would encourage you to find an instructor who is trained in Orton-Gillingham and/or Wilson.

How can I help my child become a stronger reader? Peggy Price answers this question in her blog post, “Fun Ways to Help Your Child Become a Stronger Reader“.

Melissa Farrall, Ph.D., SAIF

Program Manager for Evaluations

Melissa Farrall, Ph.D., Program Manager for Evaluation, is the author of Reading Assessment: Linking Language, Literacy, and Cognition, and the co-author of All About Tests & Assessments published by Wrightslaw. Dr. Farrall presents nationally on topics related to assessment, learning disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia and intellectual functioning. She has performed nearly 1,000 diagnostic evaluations of children and adolescents.

After earning her doctorate from Brown University in the area of Slavic Linguistics, Dr. Farrall received her Master of Education from Rivier University, where she specialized in learning disabilities.

Dr. Farrall worked as a learning disability specialist in New Hampshire public schools for several years. In 1999 she became a certified Specialist in the Assessment of Intellectual Functioning, focusing on the link between reading and oral language.  She taught courses in the structure of language and assessment at Simmons College in Boston and at Rivier University in Nashua, NH. She has worked with the International Dyslexia Association at both the national and branch levels, and she serves as a reviewer for conference speakers. Prior to joining the Stern Center, Dr. Farrall worked as an educational consultant for St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, NH.


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