Who Are the Children Who Have Reading Difficulties?

Children Who Attend a Chronically Low-Achieving School

In a school that produces large numbers of children who cannot read at grade level, year after year, it is not necessary to assess children individually. We already know that children who attend this school are being placed at risk for reading difficulties. In these cases, teachers and principals should probably consider addressing the problem with system-wide restructuring and change, rather than invest in a costly child-by-child remediation process. Good teaching and a good classroom reading program can bring most students up to or near grade level during the primary grades. But sustaining this accomplishment is difficult when a large percentage of a school’s students are failing.

Central to this restructuring is the need for effective reading instruction. A large number of students, who should be capable of reading ably given adequate instruction, are not doing so, suggesting that the instruction available is not appropriate. If the instruction provided by the school is ineffective or insufficient, many children will have difficulty learning to read (unless additional instruction is provided in the home or elsewhere). Children whose reading difficulties arise when the design of regular classroom curriculum, or its delivery, is flawed are sometimes termed curriculum casualties.

Children with Low English Proficiency

Hispanic students in the United States are at especially high risk. Despite progress over the past 15 to 20 years, they are about twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to read well below average for their age. Many of these children also have parents who are poorly educated, come from low-income families, live in low-income communities, and attend low-achieving schools. With multiple risk factors in place, we can predict that, without excellent instruction, large numbers of these children will be at risk for reading difficulties.

Despite various controversies, considerable evidence suggests that limited or non-English-speaking language learners are generally more likely to become betters readers of English when they receive initial instruction in their native language.

Spoken language must come before written language; it is extremely hard to read a language that still is incomprehensible to the ear. Some language-minority children arrive at school with no proficiency in English, but speaking a different language for which there are instructional guides, learning materials, and locally available proficient teachers. These children should be taught the basics of reading in their native language while acquiring oral proficiency in English, and they



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