Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

As research clearly shows, children’s ability to read is a strong predictor of their chances of success in school and beyond. Yet even in Massachusetts, which topped the nation in fourth grade reading on the latest  National Assessment of Educational Progress, one half of children scored below proficient. Nationwide, only one-third of fourth graders scored proficient or above in reading.

Writing recently in Education Week’s Sputnik blog, Robert Slavin, director of the Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education, offers a solution: Implement the proven strategies that we know promote children’s language and literacy development.

“Everyone,” Slavin writes, “knows that children who don’t read well will incur huge expenses over time in remediation, special education, repeated grades, and ultimately delinquency, dropout, and unemployment.” (“No More Excuses: We Can Get All Children Reading”)

“Imagine that your job were to ensure the reading success of every child in a Title I school by the end of first grade, and you had flexible resources to do it,” Slavin, also co-founder of Success for All, continues. “You’d make sure kids had language-rich preschool and kindergarten experiences, learned phonemic awareness and letter sounds in kindergarten, and were taught using proven kindergarten- and first-grade reading programs that emphasized systematic phonics, comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. Recognizing that even with the best of teaching not every child will succeed, you’d provide tutoring for kids who are struggling in first grade. You would test children’s vision and make sure they had eyeglasses if they needed them. You’d check their hearing and general health, and would make sure that all of these problems are solved as well.

“You’d help teachers use effective strategies such as cooperative learning to motivate and engage kids with reading and effective classroom management methods to further build motivation and make effective use of time…. You’d constantly assess children’s progress in reading and respond right away if they are found to be falling behind in any way.”

Slavin also points to professional development that is extensive and ongoing and family engagement strategies that encourage parents to read to their children, as well as make sure they are well rested and attend school daily.

“Each element of this strategy has substantial evidence of effectiveness in increasing reading performance,” Slavin writes. “Many problems of education are very complex, and the right solutions are not immediately apparent. In contrast, reading for every child is dead simple. Solutions are known. Wouldn’t it make sense to focus attention on this critical, solvable problem?”