A student’s ability to read is a critical predictor of educational and lifelong success. A strong reading program, beginning in kindergarten and continuing into the third grade and beyond, gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education and succeed in their future endeavors. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of Alaskan fourth-graders were proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as of 2019.
A student who misses the opportunity to learn to read proficiently before fourth grade rarely catches up. However, students who enter fourth grade capable of reading and able to use their reading skills to learn, are positioned with a much higher probability for high school graduation and readiness for college or a good job.
A student who still needs time to master reading must have every opportunity to strengthen and gain this skill before entering fourth grade—to better ensure a successful future. An effective program to help struggling students before entering fourth grade includes parent involvement and intensive training, such as after-school programs, extra tutoring, or summer programs.
Once struggling students have been identified, an individualized reading plan should be created in collaboration with the student’s parent or guardian. The reading plan explains what interventions the student’s teacher will pursue at school as well as strategies for the parent to practice at home.
Additionally, home reading strategies or programs should be provided to the parents of struggling students. Home reading programs help parents support their child’s literacy skills in a safe, comfortable environment. Research shows that reading activities done at home with a parent or guardian improve children’s literacy skills as well as their outlook and interest in reading. The strategies can include a “read-at-home” plan, parent training workshops, or regular parent-guided home reading activities.
A comprehensive read-by-nine program will also provide for interventions outside of regular class time. Students learn better when they have the opportunity to practice literacy skills in a variety of different environments and with different media. This will require before- or after-school programs or extra tutoring, as well as summer reading programs. Providing these interventions gives deficient readers the time they need with targeted instruction and extra practice to catch up with their peers.
Summer reading programs are important because academic gaps between students can widen dramatically during the summer. If students lose reading skills during the summer, their progress towards reading proficiency by the end of third grade slows.
The best summer reading programs include regular student attendance, smaller class sizes, individualized teaching, involvement from parents, effective teachers, alignment of the school year and summer curricula, and progress tracking. Summer programs that focus on literacy can improve students’ reading performance, increase opportunities for family engagement, and increase students’ motivation to read.
An effective policy to help students read by nine should include early testing, individualized reading plans, parent involvement, and additional intensive training. Beginning in fourth grade and beyond, a student must be prepared to read to learn across all subject areas. A strong state-based read-by-nine policy would require parent involvement and additional interventions outside the classroom. Without support, Alaska’s children will never get ahead.