Scholars, teachers, clinicians, and the general public have puzzled over the nature and consequences of severe reading (decoding) problems for more than a century. With the advances of genetics, neuroscience, and psychology, we know much about the underlying nature of reading disability. However, we still have much to learn, and fierce debate continues about whether there is a subgroup of poor readers who can, or should, be called dyslexic. This issue has become highly contentious, as gaining the label can bring significant benefits in terms of resourcing, various forms of test and classroom accommodation, and more positive and understanding responses from others. Many clinicians argue that special cognitive tests are needed to identify and diagnose those with dyslexia. These may take the form of general tests of IQ, or measures of more specific cognitive or executive functioning. Despite their popularity, the evidence for the utility of such measures is low, and many of the processes examined are often problematic for all poor readers, not merely the subgroup deemed to have dyslexia. A further difficulty concerns intervention. There is no strong scientific support for the notion that intervention programs designed to improve underlying cognitive processes (e.g., memory processes) can successfully improve the reading accuracy of those who struggle to acquire literacy. Similarly, interventions geared to improve visual or motor functioning have not proven successful, despite often vociferous support from adherents. The only approach that has strong scientific support takes the form of an educational program that utilizes systematic, structured phonics teaching as part of a broader literacy curriculum. This finding applies equally to those who have been diagnosed as dyslexic and those poor readers who haven’t. For this reason, it is unclear how a dyslexia diagnosis helps to inform the nature of subsequent intervention. In establishing effective forms of intervention that can cater for any child who struggles with their reading, it would appear most efficacious to utilize what is known as a “response to intervention” approach. This requires early identification of, and intervention with, all those who are making limited progress. Intervention should only utilize those approaches that have strong scientific support. The nature and extent of additional educational support should be determined on the basis of the progress that is made when additional help is given. If insufficient progress has resulted, it may well be necessary to increase and intensify the intervention. Such an approach helps to ensure that all struggling children are helped at an early stage, and no one is missed because of an absence of parental advocacy or a lack of family resource that can cover the cost of diagnostic assessment.
Julian G. Elliott
Elizabeth A. Stevens and Sharon Vaughn
Adequate reading skills are necessary for college and career readiness and success in the work force, but many students do not have sufficient reading skills. The 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress demonstrated that fourth- and eighth-grade students had made little to no progress in reading since the previous report in 2017. Elementary level students often receive dedicated English language arts instruction during the day, but this is not always true for secondary level students . One way that educators can support students across the grade levels is by providing evidence-based reading instruction within content areas (i.e., science and social studies instruction). Researchers have investigated ways for teachers to provide high-quality content area reading instruction to support the reading comprehension and content acquisition of students in general education settings. Previous research suggests that paraphrasing and text structure instruction support readers’ identification of key ideas and the integration of those ideas across paragraphs and passages when reading content area texts. These practices align with reading comprehension theory in support of conscious text processing while reading. Teaching readers to generate main ideas during reading may improve the reading outcomes and content acquisition outcomes not only for typical readers but also for struggling readers and those identified for special education. Educators’ implementation of such practices within science and social studies instruction may improve students’ reading performance and content learning across grade levels.