Recently, the National Center for Education Statistics (2021) closely examined the oral reading fluency and foundational skills of fourth-grade public school students who perform below Basic on the NAEP reading assessment (NAEP Basic). The results were alarming, particularly for black and Hispanic students. For context, oral reading fluency is important to measure because it is a reliable indicator of overall reading performance. A student’s ability to read fluently depends on his or her proficiency in both recognizing words quickly and accurately and understanding the structure of the English language, such as word meanings and grammar, for strong comprehension.
While troubling, the results of 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study are also informative as they shed light on the demographics and reading performance of low-performing fourth-graders. Results reveal black students are overrepresented at the lowest level of NAEP Basic, with 40 percent of black fourth graders and 37 percent of Hispanic fourth graders performing at this level compared to 26 percent of white fourth graders (White, Sabatini, Park, Chen, Bernstein, & Li, 2021). Regarding reading skills, these students have difficulty with phonological decoding, word recognition, and reading fluently with expression (White, Sabatini, Park, Chen, Bernstein, & Li, 2021). Such troubles are possible indicators of risk for dyslexia.
While it is unclear what percentage of students at the lowest level of NAEP Basic have dyslexia, these students clearly lack the foundational reading skills to be successful learners, thereby widening their knowledge gap with peers over time. Fortunately, reading research shows schools how to counteract this adverse outcome: by providing explicit instruction to all students in foundational reading skills (Archer, & Hughes, 2011; Rosenshine, 1987; Vaughn, Wanzek, Murray, & Roberts, 2012). Explicit instruction in foundational reading skills is beneficial to all students, but it is especially critical for those with, or at risk for, dyslexia.
Dyslexia affects about one in five individuals, making it the most diagnosed learning disability. It is a brain-based learning disability that impairs a person’s ability to read, with fundamental differences in brain development and activation patterns among those with the disability. Many myths about dyslexia continue to persist, however. For example, dyslexia is related to reading difficulties, not difficulties that arise from intellectual functioning. Also, students with dyslexia do not necessarily see and write letters or words backwards. Importantly, dyslexia does not mean a student cannot read. Students with dyslexia can learn to read with evidence-based instruction and intervention matched to their learning needs, yet they usually require more instructional time and intensive support than typical readers.
Luckily, risk signs for dyslexia can be identified in young children even before they learn to read. It is important to pay attention to these signs so students with, or at risk for, dyslexia are identified and gain early instructional support so their reading development can progress at a rate similar to their peers.
To that end, all three states in the Region 8 CC have legislation that requires schools to screen all students for dyslexia risk in the early grades. The intent of the screening provision is for schools to correctly identify those at risk and intervene early with evidence-based reading instruction and intervention to prevent future difficulties. Recently, research has shed light on factors that might predict the way schools identify students with dyslexia (Odegard, Farris, Middleton, Oslund, & Rimrodt-Frierson, 2020). Specifically, researchers found that:
- behavioral characteristics of dyslexia from universal screening were associated with school-assigned dyslexia classification;
- dyslexia classification was less likely for minority students and individual schools with a higher percentage of minority students; and
- students who showed behavioral characteristics of dyslexia and attended schools with a higher proportion of other students with poor literacy skills were less likely to receive a school-assigned dyslexia classification (Odegard, Farris, Middleton, Oslund, & Rimrodt-Frierson, 2020).
These findings suggest systematic demographic differences in whether a student is identified with dyslexia by schools, even when they implement universal screening (Odegard, Farris, Middleton, Oslund, & Rimrodt-Frierson, 2020). Therefore, schools should consider how these demographic differences in dyslexia identification play out in their setting and how they may perpetuate educational inequities in subsequent services and supports.
To build local capacity to appropriately address the needs of students with, or at risk for, dyslexia, Region 8 CC staff are supporting the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to increase state and regional staff understanding of dyslexia and evidence-based practices to improve student outcomes. In partnership with ODE’s Office of Approaches to Teaching and Professional Learning, Region 8 CC staff have delivered a professional learning series to establish common ground among state and regional staff for how to identify, intervene, support, and monitor progress of students with, or at risk for, dyslexia. The goal is to better equip state and regional staff to consistently communicate and help schools implement a system of support that effectively addresses the needs of these students. In doing so, we may prevent the results of the 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study from becoming the status quo.
Dyslexia Intervention and Support Frequently Asked Questions. Ohio Department of Education
Understanding Dyslexia Implementation Toolkit. The National Center on Improving Literacy
Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York: Guilford Press.
Odegard, T.N., Farris, E.A., Middleton, A.E., Oslund, E., & Rimrodt-Frierson, S. (2020). Characteristics of students identified with dyslexia within the context of state legislation. Journal of Learning Disabilities 53(5), 366-379. DOI: 10.1177/0022219420914551.
Rosenshine, B. (1987). Explicit teaching and teacher training. Journal of Teacher Education, 38(3), 34-36.
Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.
White, S., Sabatini, J., Park, B. J., Chen, J., Bernstein, J., and Li, M. (2021). Highlights of the 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study (NCES 2021-026). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [date] from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2021026.