How Oregon’s Reading Proficiency Stats Echo the Call to Bring Back the Science of Reading

February 28, 2023

Science of Reading

The scream to bring back the science of reading is growing louder among educators. The Oregonian via Oregon Live reported that reading proficiency stats in the state are concerning—61 percent of students in fourth grade and more than half (54 percent) of those in seventh grade are not reading at a proficient level.

Like many other states, Oregon’s public schools focus on a literacy curriculum that teaches children to read by using the photos or illustrations in books and stories. While children are encouraged to read appropriate books, they aren’t immersed in methodologies focused on phonemes and phonics.

The focus on these skills is the basis of the science of reading, and as reading proficiency continues to show more children falling behind, the call for instruction based on the science of reading has become more pronounced. Are states listening, though?

While educators and parents might realize that more children are lagging behind grade level expectations and as more data is gathered from statewide standardized testing, are those in charge of recalibrating the curriculum paying attention? Do those in charge realize that more children are being left behind because the education strategies used in many classrooms are not eliciting results?

The Science of Reading and Why It’s Important

Parents might wonder how their child is taught to read if instruction isn’t focused on the sounds of words (phonemics) or how those sounds are shown in words (phonics). Schools haven’t completely disregarded phonics, but they are not making this core skill of decoding an integral part of the literacy curriculum.

Instead, students are typically taught to use illustrations in books to help them ‘guess’ the word. This strategy is akin to encouraging a child to spell a word how it sounds. Learning to read without knowing how to proficiently decode could lead a child who struggles with phonics and phonemics to fail. Spelling by sound doesn’t teach children word patterns or the unique phonics of some word structures (like ‘eigh’ sounding like ‘ay’).

Using the science of reading—the proven methodologies of how to teach reading—can help guide children in decoding skills and learning complicated sound patterns and spelling patterns. While phonics lessons aren’t as fun as reading a book and using the pictures to help, a phonics-based curriculum teaches children the skill of breaking down words and understanding how to sound out a word properly.

Science of Reading

How Many States Teach the Science of Reading?

The article via The Oregonian explains that only a few states currently focus literacy curriculum based on the science of reading. Connecticut, Colorado and North Carolina teach the science of reading and laws in these states mandate this methodology for instruction.

The good news for parents (and educators) is that more states are moving towards the science of reading approach. In fact, parents can review a chart from APM Reports that shows the action of each state related to the reading curriculum.

Many states could be shifting to change how reading is taught in elementary school. However, if parents realize that their child has scored less than proficient on state reading tests, they might begin to help their child at home using this ‘back-to-basics’ method.

It’s never too late to help a child who has fallen behind. Unfortunately, if a child has been taught to look at pictures to decipher a word, they might not know how to properly decode using the sounds of letters, blends, etc. Parents might need to focus on phonics and phonemics at home.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, only 31 percent of eighth graders show proficiency in reading. By the time elementary students move into middle school, they might continue to lag behind if they are not showing proficiency.

Breaking Up with the Bad Habits

For children who have been taught to use pictures to help them read, changing their habits could take time. Parents can help children learn the basics of decoding by using apps, games or other strategies to help them learn different sounds, blends, etc.

Some aspects of phonics and phonemics might be difficult for parents to teach their child. The English language doesn’t always adhere to black and white rules of sounds or letter arrangement. This is why teachers once encouraged children to memorize rules like “I before E except after C or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh.”

Children who use photos to decode will need to learn that the letter ‘c’ can sound like an ‘s’ and that some letters are silent in words. Teaching children phonics and the science of decoding isn’t easy for every parent. However, reading programs and apps could help children gain proficiency and become a more confident reader, too.

Science of Reading

Resources for Phonics Apps and Materials for Home Lessons

The App Store (for Apple) and Google Play (for Android devices) offers many different app options that can help children focus on phonics skills. Some apps could be free to download (parents need to be mindful about in-app purchases, though).

Bookstores also sell workbooks to help children with phonics. In addition, some communities and cities have a store focused on teachers that sell these workbooks, too. However, stores might require a teacher ID and might not be open to the public.

There are also free resources online to help children with phonics. For example, How to Homeschool for Me offers a list of sites that offer free phonics resources for parents who want to work on this skill at home with their child. Starfall and Fun Fonix are among the recommendations. Parents can explore the sites to find the best materials and lessons for their child.

What About Reading Programs?

Online or app-based reading programs also could help children who struggle with decoding. Parents can look for a few key features in these programs:

  • Guided instruction
  • Immersive design
  • Leveled lessons
  • Vocabulary exploration

A Guided Approach

A reading app shouldn’t leave children to figure out the lessons on their own. Children who struggle to read need help. Look for programs that offer a built-in tutor like Readability. The tutor in Readability is designed with voice-recognition software that allows it to learn each child’s voice. Children read books aloud in the program and the tutor provides help if the child struggles with pronunciation.

An Immersive Design

Programs should not encourage children to read via pictures. However, colorful illustrations and interactive features should be integrated to break up text blocks and keep children engaged. Readability offers colorful illustrations for every book.

Leveled Lessons

Children should move to harder books and reading levels only when they have demonstrated mastery at their current level. Look for programs that measure fluency and comprehension to ensure the child is ready to move on. Readability’s tutor measures fluency in words read per minute, and the tutor also asks the child questions about the book to measure comprehension.

Vocabulary Exploration

Children should be encouraged to explore words they don’t know. Every book in Readability offers a new list of vocabulary words. In addition, children can tap any word in a story to hear the definition or hear the word used in a sentence.

Readability is designed to help struggling readers gain proficiency and confidence. Parents of children who struggle with decoding and who do not demonstrate grade-level reading proficiency can explore Readability with their child to understand the program’s features and meet the reading tutor. Sign up for a free seven-day trial to discover how Readability can improve a child’s reading ability.