Schoolwide Model: Knowledge Base

Teaching reading is both essential and urgent.


"All students will read at or above grade level by the end of Grade 3."

We hear this all the time but why third grade and why all?

First, why third grade?

The reason is that before grade 3, children are "learning to read." However, after grade 3, children make the transition to "reading to learn."

  • Schools are unforgiving after grade 3, not because teachers or administrators intend to be unforgiving but because the linguistic and cognitive demands placed on children after grade 3 are dramatically different. Kids go from learning to read in kindergarten through third grade to reading to learn in fourth grade.
  • Time is fixed and goes only in one direction. Children who are reading at benchmark aren't waiting for the kids who are behind to catch up.
  • When learning to read, children read narrative or storybook prose; when reading to learn, they are required to negotiate conspicuously inconsiderate text such as expository or informational text.

Second, why focus on all students? Why not some, or even most?

The answer to this can be seen in the following reading performance videos from May of first grade.

This video is of a struggling first grader at the end of the year. Watching this student's performance we can make some robust and accurate predictions about this student's later reading development:
  • What do you know about this child's reading experiences?
    • It is likely that this student's reading experiences have been limited, frustrating, and unfulfilling.
  • What do you know about this child's vocabulary development? enjoyment of literature?
    • It is likely that this student's vocabulary development and enjoyment of literature will be undermined by reading difficulties and lack of meaningful exposure to new words, books, and text.
  • What is your prediction about this child's future - next year in second grade? third grade?
    • It is likely that this student's school future will be seriously jeopardized by reading difficulties.
  • What are the odds of this child becoming a successful reader by the end of grade 3?
    • Unless instruction is intensified considerably, the odds are not in this student's favor to be a successful reader by the end of grade 3.
  • Would you feel good about any of your students possessing these skills or looking forward to this future?

Our goal is always to ruin predictions, and the best way to do that is through high quality instruction.

This video is of a successful first grader at the end of the year. Watching this student's performance we can make some robust and accurate predictions about this student's later reading development:
  • What do you know about this child's reading experiences?
    • It is likely that this student's reading experiences have been rich, meaningful, and successful.
  • What do you know about this child's vocabulary development? enjoyment of literature?
    • It is likely that this student's vocabulary development and enjoyment of literature will be supported and reinforced by the ability to read fluently.
  • What is your prediction about this child's future - next year in second grade? third grade?
    • It is likely that this student will be successful in school.
  • What are the odds of this child becoming a successful reader by the end of grade 3?
    • The odds are in this student's favor.

Our goal should be to work to provide all students with the skills they need to be successful readers. We want all students to have the odds in their favor.

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Teaching Reading is ESSENTIAL.

Reading is essential to success in our society (National Research Council, 1998, p.1):
Reading is the doorway to learning. Like no other ability, reading gives children access to the world. You can't gain access to history, politics, news, literature, and information, if you can't read. It is virtually impossible to be successful in our society without the ability to read.

Self-trust cannot come without years of deep reading (Bloom, 2001, p. 25):
Not only does reading give us access to the world around us, it also gives us access to ourselves. More importantly, it permits us a confidence that allows us to trust ourselves.

If you can't read, you don't choose; other people make choices for you (Kozol, 1991)
Finally, reading is power. It is critical for self improvement, self awareness, and self determination.


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Teaching reading is URGENT.

  • Schools have 540 days in which to teach children to read.
  • Research supports the urgency of teaching reading early.
  • Students in the bottom 25% of the reading continuum have a trajectory of progress that diverges early from their peers who have learned to read successfully: The Matthew Effect.
  • Performance at the end of first grade strongly predicts future reading success or failure.
  • Differences in early reading ability can result in immense differences in the amount of independent reading during the elementary years.
  • Reading difficulties are persistent.

Schools have 540 days in which to teach children to read.

540 days is "idealized" time assuming that during reading instruction there are:

  • 0 absences
  • 0 field trips
  • 0 interruptions
  • 0 school assemblies
  • Attendance every day from grade 1 to end of grade 3 (180 days of instruction per year)

Research supports the urgency of teaching reading early.

  1. As early as kindergarten, "meaningful differences" exist between students' literacy knowledge and experience (Hart & Risley, 1995).
  2. In a sample of 54 students, Juel found that there was an 88% probability of being a poor reader in fourth grade if you were a poor reader in first grade (Juel, 1988).
  3. Approximately 75% of students identified with reading problems in the third grade are still reading disabled in the 9th grade (Shaywitz et al., 1993; Francis et al., 1996, Journal of Educational Psychology, cited in National Reading Panel Progress Report, 2000).
  4. "Overall, national longitudinal studies show that more than 17.5 percent of the nation's children - about 10 million children - will encounter reading problems in the crucial first three years of their schooling" (National Reading Panel Progress Report, 2000).


The Matthew Effect

This graph compares the reading progress of a group of successful readers with a group of struggling readers. This graph highlights the urgency of teaching reading early before the gap between successful readers and struggling reading becomes entrenched.

  • At the beginning of first grade there are already significant differences in students who are successful and those who are struggling.
  • These reading differences become greater and more discrepant over time (especially at 3rd grade), demonstrating a "Matthew" Effect.

The Matthew Effect refers to a self-fulfilling prophecy - the rich get richer; poor get poorer phenomenon (Stanovich, 1986).

  • Children who can crack the code, read more words, learn more vocabulary, comprehend more, are motivated to read, and enjoy reading.
  • Children without adequate word recognition skills read less, read slowly, have slower development of vocabulary, and are less motivated to read.

Performance at the end of first grade strongly predicts future reading success or failure

The scatter plot below compares the end of first grade DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency scores for a group of children from Oregon with their end of third grade scores on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT). In this scatter plot, each dot represents a child's reading performance at two different points in time. At one point in time, the dot represents a child's reading performance at the end of first grade, which can be seen on the horizontal axis (numbers begin at 0 and go to 160). That represents a child's Oral Reading Fluency score, which is the number of words read correctly per minute. There are two vertical lines for Oral Reading Fluency, a red line at 10 correct words per minute, and a green line at 40 correct words per minute. The red line is an indicator. Students who score below 10 correct words per minute at the end of first grade, or to the left of the red line, are in serious trouble. They are at risk for reading difficulties. The green line at 40 correct words per minute represents an acceptable benchmark. Students whose score is to the right of the green line are reading 40 or more correct words per minute at the end of grade 1, which means those students are on track to become successful readers. We want all students' scores to the right of the green line.

Each dot represents a child's reading performance at the end of grade 1, but that same dot also represents that child's reading performance at the end of grade 3 on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT). That is, each dot represents two points in time, on two different measures. There is a red line at 201, which represents "meeting the standard" on this high stakes achievement test (standards from 2003). The horizontal green line is at 215 represents "exceeding the standard" on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT). What we must examine is whether or not a child's performance (i.e. a single dot) is to the right of the vertical line (40 correct words per minute) on Oral Reading Fluency and above the green horizontal line (215 or more) on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT).

If a child met the DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency benchmark of 40 correct words per minute at the end of grade 1, the probability of that child meeting the expectation on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT) at the end of grade 3 was very high. In fact, 88% of students who met the end of grade 1 Oral Reading Fluency goal, also met or exceeded the standard on the Oregon Statewide Assessment (OSAT).

Differences in early reading ability can result in immense differences in the amount of independent reading during the elementary years.

The table below illustrates how differences in early reading ability can result in immense differences in the amount of independent reading during the elementary years. These differences in independent reading have important implications for vocabulary development, comprehension, and learning (Anderson, 1992):

  • Children who learn to read early, read more words, learn more vocabulary, comprehend more, are motivated to read, and enjoy reading.
  • Children without adequate reading skills, read less, read slowly, have slower development of vocabulary, and are less motivated to read.

Percentile Rank Minutes Per Day Words Read Per Year
Books Text Books Text
98 65.0 67.3 4,358,000 4,733,000
90 21.2 33.4 1,823,000 2,357,000
80 14.2 24.6 1,146,000 1,697,000
70 9.6 16.9 622,000 1,168,000
60 6.5 13.1 432,000 722,000
50 4.6 9.2 282,000 601,000
40 3.2 6.2 200,000 421,000
30 1.8 4.3 106,000 251,000
20 0.7 2.4 21,000 134,000
10 0.1 1.0 8,000 51,000
2 0 0 0 8,000
  • A student in the 20th percentile reads books 0.71 minutes a day.
  • This adds up to 21,000 words read per year.
  • A student in the 80th percentile reads books 14.2 minutes a day.
  • This adds up to 1,146,000 words read per year.

Reading difficulties are persistent.

Teaching all students to read requires teaching each student to read. This includes the bottom 20% of students, students who will have an extremely difficult time learning to read. These children's difficulties will only increase over time. In other words, they will not "catch up" to their peers without explicit, intensive, systematic, and relentless instruction. This instruction must begin immediately and be sustained over time. Especially for these students, teaching reading is not only essential for success, but also extremely urgent.

  • Getting to 100% requires going through the bottom 20%.
  • Assuming students will "catch up" with practice as usual is not wise. Catching up is a low probability occurrence.
  • The bottom 20% will require a very different kind of effort in both the short and long run.


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