More States Are Using Science-Backed Reading Instruction. It Shouldn’t Have Taken This Long.
In 2019, two-thirds of American fourth-graders scored below “proficient” in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, scores declined again, reaching a 30-year low. However, despite a widespread national literacy problem among American schoolchildren, several states have managed to stave off the dramatic declines in test scores that plagued other states.
Since 2013, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana have all passed legislation mandating that teachers be trained in the “science of reading”—methods that typically center around phonics, an approach in which children are taught to read words by decoding the sounds that different letters or groups of letters make. Since these policies’ implementation, reading performance in these states has dramatically improved, even though reading scores there have historically been among the lowest in the nation.
This stands in sharp contrast to the popular, though discredited, “balanced literacy”—also known as the “whole language” or “three cueing”—method, which concentrates on having children read whole words instead of sounding out letters. This method also teaches children to guess when they come across an unfamiliar word, using context clues like the word’s first letter or the pictures in the book.
The idea that children learn to read by using context, rather than decoding words, was first challenged in the 1970s with a series of studies that found that skilled readers rarely rely on context at all. Instead they “very quickly recognize a word as a sequence of letters. That’s how good readers instantly know the difference between ‘house’ and ‘horse,’ for example,” journalist Emily Hanford summarizes. In fact, Hanford notes, “Experiments that force people to use context to predict words show that even skilled readers can correctly guess only a fraction of the words.”
While balanced literacy was widely discredited decades ago, it has remained incredibly
Article from Reason.com