Reading and Special Education

Reading skills are necessary to be successful both in and out of school (Kamil, 2003). Within the last decade, educational policies have reiterated the importance of reading in our society (Lyon, Shaywitz, Shaywitz, & Chhabra, 2005). Being literate is associated with graduation and post-secondary success (Daniel et al., 2006; Kutner et al., 2007; Barton, 2000). Students who are proficient in reading are less likely to drop out of school or be adjudicated (Daniel et al., 2006; Kutner et al., 2007).

Unfortunately, millions of children in the United States struggle learning to read. Recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that 32% of fourth graders and 22% of eighth graders do not have basic reading skills (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2014). The data for students identified with disabilities is even more concerning. Sixty-nine percent of fourth grade students with disabilities and 60% of eighth grade students with disabilities have below basic reading skills (NCES, 2014). This means that these students are not able to read and make meaning from the text they encounter on a daily basis.

Struggling readers require instruction that leverages evidence-based instructional practices. Evidence-based practices in reading are practices that have been identified through research as having a positive effect on student reading performance (Cook, Tankersley, Cook, & Landrum, 2008). Evidence-based reading practices, paired with mutli-tiered systems of support, where students are able to receive targeted, differentiated reading instruction (Gersten et al., 2009), can help ensure that students develop reading proficiency (Bursuck & Damer, 2015).

One evidence-based practice in reading for students who are struggling is systematic and explicit instruction (Bursuck & Damer, 2015). Systematic and explicit instruction is an approach that involves a clear, direct, teaching of sequenced reading skills (Bursuck & Damer, 2015). Furthermore, explicit and systematic reading instruction involves a graduated instructional sequence where teachers move students through explicit instruction and modeling, guided practice, and independent practice, all paired with immediate, corrective feedback (Bursuck & Damer, 2015).

Within a multi-tiered system of support, teachers identify students that are struggling using data-based decision making (Bursuck & Damer, 2015). This means that teachers collect information on student reading performance in order to make informed decisions about how to adjust their instruction. Typically, teachers collect data to evaluate students’ proficiency in the following domains of reading: (a) phonemic awareness, (b) phonics, (c) fluency, (d) vocabulary, and (e) comprehension. The National Reading Panel (2000) and the National Early Literacy Panel (2008) have identified these five domains as important to developing the reading skills of students who are struggling or at risk in reading.

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