Why Reading Growth Stalls

By or about 3rd-grade, the shift in reading instruction moves from learning to read to learning to comprehend. Much of the time that means learning to comprehend the “testing genre”. This is also where deficiencies turn into massive gaps!

Tests are made with multiple choices, but good reading is not about answer choices. This means a student can learn to make minimal standards on a reading test, but still not be a “good” reader.

  • How/Why does this happen?
  • What system is needed to prevent this?

How Upper Elementary Gaps Happen

There’s little time to focus on word decoding in upper elementary. Talk to your teachers (maybe even your coaches) and they’ll tell you, “We don’t have time for that.”

The problem is there.

Basic reading skills do not decrease in the upper grades. They are massively important as text complexities increase. We see this mostly during 5th-, 6th, and 7th grades.

Students who made decent reading scores in 3rd grade will start struggling with academic texts, especially in science and primary documents in history.

This is because their reading skills and word knowledge deficiencies weren’t addressed in 3rd- and 4th-grades.

Multi-Layered Reading Interventions

The solution is the instructional side of the reading systems coin. While one side of the coin is multi-gate screeners, the other side is a layering of reading interventions:

  • Three types of reading fluency programs (computerized, peer-facilitated and teacher-driven).
  • Incremental spiral review for basic reading skills (i.e. decoding, word fluency, word parts/morphology, and spelling).
  • Direct, explicit instruction in comprehension strategies (different than test-taking).
  • Small-group comprehension instruction with leveled texts.

The key with this reading system is that it’s not driven by any single “program” and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s multi-layered, driven by multi-gate screeners.


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