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Preventing Reading Difficulties and Reading Failure:
Early Intervention and Prevention

by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

A student teacher asks: Can you send me some research articles about how children learn to read in school with support?

Sue Whitney, research editor for Wrightslaw, replies: "Children do not learn to read with support. They learn to read with direct instruction. Reading is a learned skill. For many children, reading is not a skill that develops naturally as they mature."

According to the Nation's Report Card for 2017. Compared to 2015, there was a 1-point increase in the average reading score at grade 8 in 2017, but no significant change in the average score for reading at grade 4, or for mathematics at either grade. 36 percent of fourth graders are proficient readers - and more nearly 60 percent are not proficient. 4th grade scores remain the same from 2015, with no significant increase. 24 percent of eighth graders are "below basic" readers.

     Advanced: Signifies superior performance
     Proficient: Represents solid academic performance and competency on challenging subject matter.
     Basic: Denotes partial mastery of fundamental skills for grade-level performance. (Source: Associated Press)

Preventing Reading Difficulties

The last word on reading research is Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children by the National Research Council and published by the National Academies Press.

This research examines reading problems and introduces concepts used by experts in the field. In a clear and readable narrative, you learn about word identification, comprehension, and normal reading development.

You learn about the factors that put children at risk of poor reading. You learn how literacy can be fostered from birth through kindergarten and the primary grades. The publication includes an evaluation of philosophies, systems, and materials commonly used to teach reading.

You can order this publication as a hardback book, a PDF book, or both. You can also skim this publication online for free. Download archived article free.

Report of the National Reading Panel

In 1997, because reading scores had not improved in 30 years, Congress asked the National Institutes of Health to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read.

In 2000, the National Reading Panel (NRP) released its findings in two reports and a video entitled, "Teaching Children to Read."

"Teaching Children to Read"- Summary Report of the National Reading Panel - This report is an excellent resource for parents, teachers, administrators, or anyone interested in learning about reading instruction research. (PDF)

Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read - This guide summarizes the findings of the National Reading Panel and suggests how to use these findings to teach reading in the classroom. Describes the five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension, implications for classroom instruction, and examples of how the findings can be implemented. (Free, 58 pages)

Put Reading First: A Parents' Guide (8 page brochure) Order brochure.

You will also find useful information in the reading section of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development

National Institute for Literacy (1991-2010)

The National Institute for Literacy published documents on reading and literacy-related topics. Some publications may still be avaialable.

A Child Becomes a Reader: Proven Ideas for Parents from Research -- Birth to Preschool
, September 2002. Bonnie B. Armbruster, Fran Lehr and Jean Osborn.

"When does a child learn to read? Many people might say in kindergarten or first grade. But researchers have told us that children can begin to learn reading and writing at home, long before they go to school. This booklet offers advice for parents of children from birth to preschool on how to support reading development at home, and how to recognize preschool and day care activities that start children on the road to becoming readers."

A Child Becomes a Reader: Proven Ideas for Parents from Research -- Kindergarten through Grade Three, September 2002. Bonnie B. Armbruster, Fran Lehr and Jean Osborn. ED Pubs Document EX0027P.

"The road to becoming a reader begins the day a child is born and continues through the end of third grade. At that point, a child must read with ease and understanding to take advantage of the learning opportunities in fourth grade and beyond. This booklet offers advice for parents of children from grades K-3 on how to support reading development at home, and how to recognize effective instruction in their children's classrooms."

Reading Resources from the U. S. Department of Education

"Editors picks" from a comprehensive list of free publications from the U. S. Department of Education.

Articles about Reading

Children do not learn to read with support. They learn to read with direct instruction.

Everyone involved in teaching children to read - parents and educators - need to read Preventing Early Reading Failure and Its Devastating Downward Spiral by Joseph K. Torgesen (published in the American Educator by the American Federation of Teachers. According to Dr. Torgesen:

"Children who are destined to be poor readers in fourth grade almost invariably have difficulties in kindergarten and first grade with critical phonological skills . . . These weak phonological skills, in turn, mean it is difficult for these children to identify (decode) unknown words, and their efforts to do so produce many errors. Naturally, these children find it difficult, even unpleasant, to read independently … Their problems then spiral." Read article

Reading Instruction
and Elements of an Effective Reading Program and Where We Stand on Reading from the American Federation of Teachers.

"Reading is the fundamental skill upon which all formal education depends. Research clearly shows that children who are poor readers at the end of first grade are never likely to acquire the reading skills they need to successfully complete elementary school - unless these students are identified early in their school career and given the intensive, systematic intervention they require."

Intervention and Prevention from Reading Rockets.

"Early interventions are designed to help students before they begin to fail. Knowing which students are at risk for reading difficulty, and knowing what to do for those students are the first steps in providing effective early intervention. Find out how to use this knowledge to help prevent reading problems for struggling readers." Learn about Intervention and Prevention

Sources for Reading Research from Reading Rockets.

"Enormous amounts of reading and literacy research is available from the U.S. Department of Education, journals, associations, and other entities. These suggestions and links will help you find what you need." Learn about reading research.


Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


Research Based Instruction (RBI)

The Florida Center for Reading Research has reviews of reading programs and curricula. You will also find publications and articles about the science of reading, reading assessments, recommended reading, and parent resources.

The Partnership for Reading is a searchable database about effective research based reading programs for children, adolescents, and adults. On this site, you will learn about research, principles about reading instruction, and products for parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers. (Sponsored by The National Institute for Literacy, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education)

The Center for Parent Information and Resources (formerly The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, NICHCY) will connect you to the knowledge base that has accumulated over many years of investigation and study.

Legal Definitions of Reading and Essential Components of Reading Instruction

The No Child Left Behind Act contained the legal definitions of reading and essential components of reading instruction.

Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.

Learn more about reading.

Last Revised: 11/05/18

To Top

Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Manchester, New Hampshire, works with families as a special education advocate and is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Doing Your Homework, Suzanne Whitney gives savvy advice about reading, research based instruction, and creative strategies for using education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools.

Her articles have been reprinted by,,, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys.

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

She also served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC).

Sue Whitney's bio.

Copyright © 2002-2022 by Suzanne Whitney.

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