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Doing Your Homework:
What Are the Criteria for Remedial Reading Programs?

by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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My child has been in remedial reading this year. He made three months of progress so he actually fell further behind his peers.

Can the school select one reading program and use that program with all children?

What are the criteria for remedial reading programs?

From Sue:

The fact that most schools fail to use research based reading programs that are implemented by trained teachers are the main reasons why only 32 percent of children are proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade. Link to Graphs of Reading, Math, Science Proficiency, Grades K-12

Tragically, 75 percent of children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade will never be proficient readers. Source: Focus on Learning

Three Reasons for Reading Failure

1. The program is not appropriate for the child.
2. There are too many students in the reading class.
3. The pace of the instruction is too rapid for children to achieve mastery of skills presented. Source: The Reading Foundation

Requirements for Research Based Reading Programs


Teachers who are trained in research based methods should use the programs as they are intended to be used - including the recommended hours per day and week, and the recommended teacher-student ratio.

I am not aware of any research showing that a research based program will work if it is used by a teacher who is not properly trained, if the teacher-student ratio is wrong, if the required hours per day and week are wrong, or if the program is wrong for the child's stage of reading development.

If the reading program is not matched to the child's stage of reading development and is not sufficiently intense to bring the child's skills to where they need to be for his age and grade, it is worthless for that child.

Check your state grade level standards and the "average range" on test scores to document where your child needs to end up. Adjust the intensity of instruction so the child reaches this goal in two years or less.

Six Qualities  of  Effective  Reading  Programs  

1. Effective programs are driven by reading research, not ideology.

2. Effective programs emphasize direct, systematic, intensive, and sustained reading.

3. Effective programs require school-wide buy-in before they are adopted.

4. Effective programs are supported by initial professional development and extended follow-up training throughout the school year.

5. When implementing an effective program, the school needs to be committed to the integrity of the program's instructional approach and materials.

6. Effective programs make effective use of instructional time, provide multiple reading opportunities, and employ a variety of reading assessments.
Source: Considerations When Selecting a Reading Program from The Access Center.

Social & Emotional Problems When Children Do Not Learn to Read

For emotional reasons alone, two years of not knowing how to read is a long time for a child. Psychologist Michael Ryan describes the high price children pay when we fail to teach them to read in Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia

Is it reasonable that a school that teaches children to read is not teaching this child to read? It is reasonable to expect that "specialized instruction to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability" (the definition of "special education" in IDEA) will ensure that the child progresses to where he needs to be in a fairly short period of time?

If the child is not making this progress, is it reasonable to conclude that the special education program is not appropriate?

Model Reading Program

After you learn about the requirements for a research based reading program that will be effective for this child at his reading stage, look at the model reading program from the U. S. Department of Education.

This model calls for 90 minutes of instruction per day, 5 days a week, from kindergarten through grade 3. Children who are not making sufficient progress receive additional instruction. This model assumes that reading instruction takes place in general education classrooms. Children are not allowed to fall behind. They are given the instruction they need when they need it. National Research Council, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children

Question C-1 of Guidance for the Reading First program says:

"A high-quality reading program that is based on scientifically based research must include instructional content based on the five essential components of reading instruction integrated into a coherent instructional design.

"A coherent design includes explicit instructional strategies that address students’ specific strengths and weaknesses, coordinated instructional sequences, ample practice opportunities and aligned student materials, and may include the use of targeted, scientifically based instructional strategies as appropriate.

"The design should also consider the allocation of time, including a protected, uninterrupted block of time for reading instruction of more than 90 minutes per day.

"A high-quality reading program also includes assessment strategies for diagnosing student needs and measuring progress, as well as a professional development plan that ensures teachers have the skills and support necessary to implement the program effectively and to meet the reading needs of individual students."

When children receive this type and intensity of instruction by well-trained teachers, many never need to be identified with a disability and never need to be placed in special education programs.

11 Questions to Ask About Your Child's Reading Program

Here are some questions you need to ask about your child's reading program:

1. What is the name of my child's reading program?

2. Is the reading program researched-based? Does the program include the five essential elements identified by the National Reading Panel and required by No Child Left Behind?

3. How many children will be in my child's reading group?

4. How have the children in this group been selected?

5. Has the teacher been trained in direct, systematic, multisensory reading instruction?

6. Is the teacher certified in this particular program?

7. Has the teacher completed a supervised practicum in this program?

8. How many hours of instruction per week will my child receive?

9. How will the pace of the instruction be determined?

10. What criteria will be used to determine mastery?

11. How will I be informed about my child's progress?
Source: The Reading Foundation

More Info

Below are links to articles and publications that will help you learn about research based reading programs, appropriately trained teachers, stages of reading development, and model reading programs.

Stages of reading development - If the program is not appropriate for the child's reading stage, it will be ineffective for him, even if it works for other children his age.

More about The Stages of Development, Stage 0 - Stage 5.

4 Great Definitions About Reading in NCLB - No Child Left Behind includes the legal definitions of reading, essential components of reading instruction, scientifically based reading research, and reading assessments. Does your child's program have these "essential components"? Has the school given your child a diagnostic reading assessment? What did this assessment show?

How Can I Get a Trained, Certified Reading Teacher?

Guidance for the Reading First Program - The purpose of Reading First is to ensure that all children are proficient readers by the end of third grade. This publication includes a description of a model program - 90 minutes of instruction per day, 5 days a week, with additional instruction for children who continue to struggle.

More Strategies

Join the International Dyslexia Association and the Learning Disabilities Association of America for one year. Immerse yourself in information about your child's disability, research based instructional techniques, legal rights and responsibilities, and advocacy strategies.

Get help from other parents. Look for a support or study group in your community. Read Strategies to Find a Parent Group. Other parents can provide information, recommend experts, offer support, and alleviate that sinking feeling that you are fighting this battle alone.

Learn more about research based instruction (RBI).

Learn more about teaching children to read.

Learn more about effective advocacy.

Revised 05/27/12


Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.


Copyright © 2002-2014 by Suzanne Whitney.

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