Double Jeopardy Report: The Importance of Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory

Thanks to Education Week for pointing to a soon to be released study:” Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation”.  The study presents a startling finding: students who are unable to read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19:

…Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.

“Third grade is a kind of pivot point,” said Donald J. Hernandez, the study’s author and a sociology professor at Hunter College, at the City University of New York. “We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.”

This study points to the importance of early intervention and targted reading as a way to influence a student’s reading growth rate.  Dr. Malbert Smith’s recent policy brief, ‘Bending the Reading Growth Trajectory: Instructional Strategies to Promote Skills and Close the Readiness Gap’  is directly relevant here and provides a blueprint for the sort of instructional strategies that serve to help students remain on track for college and career readiness.

Specifically, Dr. Smith advocates adopting early intervention strategies for young and struggling readers.  In addition to these strategies, he aruges for increasing the velocity of growing readers through the use of deliberate and targeted practice.  Smith also advocates an earlier introduction to more complex texts:

Reading growth can also be addressed by exposing students to more complex text—especially in the middle and high school years—so that they have increased opportunities to stretch their skills. Unfortunately, as Appendix A of the Common Core Standards laments, “K-12 texts have actually trended downward in difficulty” and have become “less demanding” over the past fifty years (Chall, Conrad, & Harris, 1977; Hayes, Wolfer, & Wolfe, 1996). Intended to remove barriers to content with more accessible texts, this trend has had the unintended effect of hampering students’ ability to tackle more challenging texts as they progress toward graduation. It should be noted that exposing secondary students to more demanding text no longer has to result in discomfort, strain or frustration. With measurement tools like Lexile® measures that help students determine their “just-right” reading range to enhance reading growth and lead to readiness, students can challenge themselves with success and a resulting sense of accomplishment.

For more concrete strategies on ways to ensure that students are reading on grade level, be sure to check out the whole thing.  As the recent Double Jeopardy report makes clear, improving the reading ability of young students is vital to ensuring the success of these students beyond high school.

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