Ask any K–3 teacher about phonics or phonological awareness and, well, be careful what you ask for!
You’re likely to take a deep dive into the bowl of alphabet soup that is reading instruction and get a taste of phonemes, onsets, rimes, and diagraphs, just to name a few.
No one understands early childhood literacy better than a K–3 instructor. They’ll tell you that comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading and that when any one of the five foundational reading constructs is jeopardized—including phonics or phonological awareness—the reader is less likely to derive meaning from the text.
So before even thinking about achieving reading proficiency, it’s important to truly understand what it requires.
The role of comprehension
Kids need to be able to understand what they read. Consider, for instance, students who decode inaccurately, which leads to a minimal understanding of the author’s intent and misinterpretation. Or students who read word-by-word and thus lack automaticity, resulting in difficulty comprehending the meaning of a whole text.
No one understands early childhood literacy better than a K–3 instructor.”
Conversely, a reader who decodes rapidly may not focus on deriving meaning from a passage, and students with poor prosody are likely to group words into inappropriate phrases or apply expression without fully understanding the contextual meaning of the words. Let’s not forget to mention a reader’s background knowledge and personal experiences. Culturally diverse experiences or lack thereof can impede a reader’s ability to comprehend a text.
In each of these incidences, students go to great pains to understand what they’re reading, but they’re not always able to achieve full comprehension. This can have lifelong effects on kids as they move through the K–12 system and on to college or the working world, effects third grade retention policies aim to address.
When third graders don’t understand what they read
Currently, more than a dozen states and Washington, DC, require retention in third grade if students aren’t reading proficiently by the end of the year. Several other states allow retention at the teacher’s discretion.
Imagine you’re a third grade teacher with students who aren’t reading at grade level. What is the gap and how do you close it? That can be a very difficult question to answer. Here’s why.
[I]f a third grader doesn’t achieve a proficient reading score by year’s end, they can be held back. But […t]hat student’s real problem—a gap in early foundational skills—might never get addressed.”
Third grade students who are reading below grade level often have gaps in early foundational skills, e.g., phonics and phonological awareness. And while phonemic awareness is the number one precursor to reading success in later years, you probably won’t find any mention of it in state third grade reading standards. These constructs are typically targeted for instruction in grades K–1.
So if a third grader doesn’t achieve a proficient reading score by year’s end, they can be held back. But when they repeat third grade, they’ll likely have the same fluency and comprehension instruction they had with third grade level texts they couldn’t read the first time. That student’s real problem—a gap in early foundational skills—might never get addressed. They’ll continue to struggle and inevitably move on to fourth grade without having mastered the skills needed to be a strong reader. And nobody wants that.
How assessment can help
Reading teachers understand the need for holistic, multi-dimensional oral reading fluency assessments that measure the five foundational reading constructs in concert. So do reserachers.
The right assessment lets educators identify reading gaps long before third grade.”
In “How can children be taught to comprehend text better,” Michael Pressley and Katherine Hilden state that assessments that only measure single constructs, e.g., oral reading rates, do not measure reading comprehension. And in “She’s my best reader; she just can’t comprehend,” Mary DeKonty Applegate et al. caution against judging the reading proficiency level of a student according to charts denoting rate, accuracy, and prosody without any consideration given to comprehension.
The right assessment lets educators identify reading gaps long before third grade. MAP® Reading Fluency™ focuses on all the essential components of reading and measures oral reading fluency, literal comprehension, and foundational skills. It lets teachers evaluate an entire class of students in approximately 20 minutes so they can spend less time evaluating reading and more time teaching.
Learn more about it in our recent webinar, “A time-saving tale: MAP Reading Fluency.” Or read about the difference it’s making for a charter network in the Midwest in our case study.