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Stagnant Reading Scores Come into Focus for Conference Panel

Nationwide, 3rd-grade reading scores have barely budged, according to recent federal data, raising concerns that children need more help to advance their skills.

Studies have shown that low reading scores in childhood are linked to problems down the road. Children who continue to struggle with reading are at risk of dropping out of college and job instability.

Here’s the catch, according to presenters at the AASA national conference session on Friday: 95% of students are cognitively capable of reading at a proficient standard. Thirty percent of the lagging readers come from backgrounds with at least one college educated parent.

Recent scientific research on the brain has revealed how the brain processes reading. Even so, there are still “reading wars” in which teachers, administrators and experts are unable to agree on the best ways to teach reading to students.

Marty Crawford, superintendent of Tyler Independent School District in Tyler, Texas, said many of the teachers in his district have challenges teaching reading. Some have lacked appropriate research-based instruction materials or need training.  

“We did find a huge lack of knowledge for our teachers,” said Michelle Starkey, superintendent of Logansport Community School Corporation in Indiana. “When you sit down and talk to them about: How do kids learn to read? What’s that process like? They don’t know.”

EAB, a company that focuses on using research and technology to improve education, is bringing modern research findings and practices into the classroom, said Starkey and Crawford at the session.

One EAB program that the superintendents mentioned was its Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling. They said it helps train teachers so that they can effectively instruct students and improve reading skills. The program includes multiple strategies, including splitting children up into specialized reading groups according to their weaknesses in processing words.

This helps fill small gaps that can improve students’ outcomes. Having teachers play an active role in improving reading scores through supportive reading programs will help students improve.

“I strongly encourage you to invest in your people rather than bringing people to you,” said Nicole Lambson, a superintendent of the Farmington Municipal Schools in Farmington, N.M. “They become your trainers and you have a really strong foundation.”

(Amanda Zhang is a junior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego and an intern with the AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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