With nearly 60% of California children not meeting state reading standards by the third grade, strong parent-teacher partnerships and a statewide shift toward evidence-based reading strategies are crucial in helping students learn how to read, a panel of experts said during an EdSource roundtable on Tuesday.
“Learning to read is not like learning to speak. We learn how to speak very easily. It is not the same with reading; we need explicit instruction,” said Megan Bacigalupi, a parent of a student with dyslexia and co-founder of CA Parent Power, a statewide parent advocacy organization focused on literacy.
Exhaustive research shows that the majority of children must be explicitly taught how to connect sounds with letters. This phonics-based approach is often referred to as “structured literacy.”
But California districts have a decades-long history of using various approaches, reflecting debate on how to teach reading. Many continue to use strategies that experts have determined to be ineffective.
“Balanced literacy is very much alive and well in California, and that is the reason that the majority of kids in the state do not read at grade level. Period, point blank,” said Bacigalupi, referring to a teaching approach that includes explicit instruction of phonics in small doses but emphasizes exploring literature organically. “Our state leaders have done nothing to change that.”
California’s lengthy English Language Arts/English Development Framework in 2014 and the more recent 2021 California Comprehensive State Literacy Plan include sections on basic reading skills. But the state has not provided further guidance or weighed in on what constitutes effective instruction. Under local control, districts choose their own textbooks and curriculums.
A panelist offered a few states — Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee — that also follow a local control formula yet designate the need for evidence-based curriculums.
“If you can’t read, imagine what it feels like. Imagine how scary it is to not be able to read,” said Susan Pimentel, a literacy expert and founding partner of two education nonprofits. “And every child can learn to read.”
That learning ability, the panelists said, comes down to the teaching approach.
“I think there’s a process that we need to go by. With phonemic awareness, we need to understand first where are our kids at,” said Candida Elias, a first-grade teacher at Lancaster School District.
Elias’ district uses SIPPS, or Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words, a reading curriculum that allows her to start tracking her students’ reading ability and growth from the beginning of the school year. The program was created for K-12 students, including English learners and students with dyslexia.
“There needs to be a scope and sequence that the teachers are following, a good curriculum that focuses on this explicit systematic approach for reading,” said Elias, who has four children.
Ruelvis Alonga is an early literacy tutor for grades K-2 at Oakland Unified School District who also uses the SIPPS curriculum with his students and in conjunction with their teacher. It’s an approach that he admitted might seem tough and boring, but he’s learned to approach students with an encouraging mindset.
“You know what the prize is? The prize is you learn how to read,” he said.
Affirmation and praise from teachers and parents are integral to a student’s growth, Elias added.
“They’re all going to learn a different way, and it’s OK. If they’re struggling, make it a normal thing,” she said. “The little progress they made: praise them, affirm them, have rewards, have them look forward to it.”
But not all districts across California agree on the type of reading instruction that students need. If a parent wants to advocate for a change in curriculum, the panelists encouraged the audience to speak with their teachers, principals, school board members and superintendents.
Even once changes are made, they warned that challenges may remain.
“Implementation is not perfect,” said Bacigalupi. “Teachers don’t have the professional development, they don’t have the support to teach the curriculum, and they’re often thrown a new curriculum every few years with almost no support.”
This is where a strong partnership between teachers and parents becomes crucial, the panelists agreed, as well as parents reading at home with their children in order to learn what aspects of reading their child might need support with.
A parent could look out for certain patterns that could potentially signal a struggle with reading, such as whether they are speaking in complete sentences or if they are skipping over words while they read.
“Being involved is the most important advice I can give,” said Alonga.
For Bacigalupi, her involvement as a parent led to one of her children being diagnosed with dyslexia. But because California does not routinely screen children for dyslexia, her child’s testing and diagnosis occurred after he’d already fallen behind in reading.
During the roundtable, Bacigalupi shared certain actions a parent can take if they suspect their child might have dyslexia. First, she said, a parent can request an assessment for a special learning disability, and a district is required to respond with a plan within 15 days. There is then a 60-day window during which an assessment must be conducted. If the child is found to have dyslexia, they are then eligible for an individualized education plan that will help them receive the support they need.
I want to tell parents that it’s never too late to reach out to your child’s teacher,” said Elias. “We have a lot on our plate, but we do not put any parents aside. We are here for you, but please be the advocate.”
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Joseph Morabito 1 month ago1 month ago
One of the greatest things that I have ever done was to teach my son to read. I didn’t wait for school to do it, and the same is true for basic math too. It’s parent failure to pass that responsibility on to others.
Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago
K-12 education was handed the science-based recipe for teaching reading 20 years ago! Educators ignored the gift given to them on a golden platter by the National Reading Panel! They preferred an alchemistic and failed Balanced Reading Approach! Result? Almost 50 million illiterate 4th graders nation-wide over 20 years! Let that little data point sink in! Beyond imagination! No? And now the leaders pretend that the Science of Reading elixir will solve all … Read More
K-12 education was handed the science-based recipe for teaching reading 20 years ago! Educators ignored the gift given to them on a golden platter by the National Reading Panel! They preferred an alchemistic and failed Balanced Reading Approach!
Result? Almost 50 million illiterate 4th graders nation-wide over 20 years! Let that little data point sink in! Beyond imagination! No?
And now the leaders pretend that the Science of Reading elixir will solve all of their problems! Of course the lost in the fog leaders will implement the science of reading very poorly with no monitoring or accountability!
Result? A great solution will be thrown on the ash heap of failed education initiatives! Another Kabuki Theater extravaganza!
All hat and no cattle!
Same ole! Same ole!
Read The Fog of Education!
Paul Muench 2 months ago2 months ago
For any parent that wants work with his child I recommend “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann who was professor of education at University of Oregon. It’s on Emily Hanford’s reading list for reading science. I taught all my children from this book more than a decade ago and was very pleased with the results.
JudiAJ 2 months ago2 months ago
In 1980 I struggled to learn to read in a CA public school using Whole Language without phonics instruction. My mother, a teacher, had to buy multiple phonics workbooks to teach me read. I learned to read that year and developed a great love of reading. But not my classmates. My children were all offered the same pathetic instruction. Luckily they still learned to read easily. But not their classmates. I am having a … Read More
In 1980 I struggled to learn to read in a CA public school using Whole Language without phonics instruction. My mother, a teacher, had to buy multiple phonics workbooks to teach me read. I learned to read that year and developed a great love of reading. But not my classmates.
My children were all offered the same pathetic instruction. Luckily they still learned to read easily. But not their classmates.
I am having a hard time viewing the “education community” and public school as deserving anything but our complete contempt in this matter.