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Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind FAQ's Reading


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.


No Child Left Behind includes many new responsibilities and requirements for states, school districts, and schools. The law also includes new rights and responsibilities for children who attend public schools that receive Title I funds and their parents.

These "Frequently Asked Questions" from the No Child Left Behind website at www.nclb.gov will answer many of your questions about the following topics:


22. How are America's children doing in reading?
23. What's the key to helping children become successful readers?
24. Why is it so important for children to read better so early in school?
25. What is being done to help children learn to read well by the end of the third grade?
26. What is Reading First exactly, and what are its specific goals?
27. What's different about Reading First?
28. How will Reading First help classroom teachers?
29. What are the expectations of Reading First?
30. How will we know if Reading First is working?

22. How are America's children doing in reading?

Not well. Approximately 40 percent of students across the nation cannot read at a basic level. Almost 70 percent of low-income fourth grade students cannot read at a basic level. In other words, these children struggle with fundamental reading skills like understanding and summarizing a story. Almost half the students living in urban areas cannot read at a basic level. Average-performing students have made no progress over the past 10 years, and the lowest-performing readers have become less successful over this same time period.

23. What's the key to helping children become successful readers?

We know what works. Research has consistently identified the critical skills that young students need to become good readers. Teachers across different states and districts have demonstrated that sound, scientifically-based reading instruction can and does work with children. The critical missing piece lies in helping teachers benefit from the relevant research in each and every classroom. Real, nationwide progress can be made when we bring together proven methods and actually use them in America's classrooms to make sure that every child becomes a successful reader.

24. Why is it so important for children to read better so early in school?

Research shows that children who read well in the early grades are far more successful in later years. Putting it another way-reading is a gateway skill to all learning. Young, capable readers can take greater advantage of school opportunities and develop invaluable confidence in their own abilities. Reading success leads directly to success in other subjects such as social studies, math, and science. In the long term, students who cannot read well are much more likely to drop out of school and be limited to lower-paying jobs throughout their lifetimes. Reading is undeniably one of the foundations for success in society.

25. What is being done to help children learn to read well by the end of the third grade?

Improving the reading skills of children is a top national and state priority. The President, the First Lady, the Secretary of Education, governors, business leaders, elected officials, citizens, community organizations, parents, and teachers are deeply committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that every child can read. In the past few years, science has provided tremendous insight into exactly how children learn to read, and related research has identified the most essential components of reading instruction.

26. What is Reading First exactly, and what are its specific goals?

Reading First is a bold new national initiative, squarely aimed at helping every child in every state become a successful reader. For this purpose, up to nearly $6 billion will be distributed among the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico over the next several years. These funds are specifically dedicated to helping states and local school districts establish high-quality, comprehensive reading instruction for all children in kindergarten through third grade.

27. What's different about Reading First?

Reading First, unlike previous national reading programs, is a classroom-focused nationwide effort designed to help each and every student become a successful reader. Every state will be eligible to apply, and the most needy schools and districts will receive the funds and other support they will need to succeed. It differs from earlier initiatives by establishing clear, specific expectations for what can and should happen for every single student in a classroom. Reading First specifies that teachers' classroom instructional decisions must be informed by scientifically-based reading research.

Through Reading First funds, grants will be available for state and local programs in which students are systematically and explicitly taught five key early reading skills:

Phonemic awareness: the ability to hear, identify, and play with individual sounds - or phonemes - in spoken words

Phonics: the relationship between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language

Fluency: the capacity to read text accurately and quickly

Vocabulary: the words students must know to communicate effectively

Comprehension: the ability to understand and gain meaning from what has been read

28. How will Reading First help classroom teachers?

Reading First appropriately concentrates attention on classroom learning. After all, during the average school day, students spend most of their time in classrooms. Classroom instructional time should reflect the most accurate and up-to-date knowledge about the science of teaching children how to read. For that reason, Reading First provides funds to states and local districts to help classroom teachers improve the reading instruction they deliver to all of their children.

States will ensure that primary grade teachers deliver reading instruction that is informed by scientifically-based reading research. For those teachers in schools and districts with the greatest need, Reading First funds may be used to organize additional professional development, purchase or develop high-quality instructional materials, or administer assessments or diagnostic tests. The common goal is to make sure that teachers have all the necessary tools to provide coherent, skills-based reading instruction for all children.

29. What are the expectations of Reading First?

Students are expected to become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Teachers are expected to deliver consistent and coherent skills-based reading instruction. District and state leaders are expected to provide educators with ongoing, high-quality support that makes a difference in the classroom. Reading First contributes to these high expectations by steadfastly supporting high-quality local and state reading initiatives with the funds needed to make real improvements.

30. How will we know if Reading First is working?

Reading First will be working when every child in our country becomes a successful and proficient reader, irrespective of economic circumstances or family background. Further, these efforts work when every child can read and understand a mathematics problem, social studies textbook, or science experiment because of a firm reading foundation established in the early elementary years through well-delivered, strong instruction. These efforts work when every child is ready for success and achievement in the later grades because every child mastered reading in the early grades.

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