Blog / Enabling High-Quality Teaching and Learning

Effective Reading Instruction for All

Alice Parker

Posted September 17, 2018

Tag IconLiteracy, Special Education


The ability to read is perhaps the most critical tool any education system can provide to its students. Based on the National Reading Panel’s analysis of decades of research, we know that effective reading instruction must include a focus on:

  • Phonemic awareness, the ability to focus on and manipulate distinct units of sound in spoken words;
  • Phonics, learning and using letter-sound correspondences to read, recognize, and spell words as well as being able to use the alphabetic system to decode new words;
  • Vocabulary, knowing words and using them to reason in reading;
  • Comprehension, making meaning of text and using that meaning to enhance memory and understanding;
  • Fluency, the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.

Recently, the Institute for Education Sciences shared a practice guide aligned to National Reading Panel’s components with suggestions for educators on how to build students’ foundational reading skills in kindergarten through third grade.

Sadly, this body of research and best practice isn’t reaching special education students.  Nationally, 68 percent of students with disabilities have a learning or language disability, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These students must, by eligibility requirements, demonstrate normal cognitive potential. Yet they, as well as students in the other special education categories, tend to fall far behind their non-disabled peers in reading skills, national data show. This literacy gap can lead to lower employment rates as adults, lower paying jobs, and a much higher likelihood they will enter the justice system.

Addressing this issue starts with teacher education in literacy instruction. That’s why FourPoint Education Partners has worked in states and districts across the country to identify literacy practices that lead to improved outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities, which is typically the lowest performing student group in reading. We focus on grounding teacher education—in higher education and professional learning on the job—in research-based reading strategies. In districts like Garden City Public Schools in Kansas, Waukegan Public Schools in Illinois, as well as district and charter schools in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., FourPoint has partnered with leaders to support teacher education, administrators’ instructional leadership, and district, county, and state supports around evidence-based instructional strategies.

At least 11 states use a systemic approach to ensure research-based reading strategies are part of teacher education. In California, for example, teacher candidates must demonstrate they have mastered evidence-based reading to be credentialed. This practice needs to be the norm in every state.

Here are a few key resources for states, districts, schools, and higher education institutions:

  1. Centers with vetted materials and research, such as the Florida Center for Reading Research, Vaughn-Gross Center (University of Texas), and What Works Clearing House from IES
  2. Strategies to support students at multiple levels of need through systems change efforts like MultiTiered Student Support interventions (MTSS), Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI), and materials tied to the various levels of response. For example, Kansas MTSS, the Iowa Department of Education, Florida Department of Education, California MTSS Initiative, and the RtI Action Network.
  3. Research by Louisa Moats, Joe Torgesen, Sharon Vaughn, and Sally Shaywitz

By ensuring that educators have the needed instructional skills to support all students’ reading – particularly students with disabilities – we will increase each child’s capacity for self-fulfillment. Reading skills are not a gift we give to students. It’s our educational duty and their educational right.

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