There are few who would dispute the conclusion that those who are not able to read will be at a disadvantage in many aspects of their lives. Given the great importance of literacy skills, it is of great concern to leaders in the field of education that so many of our elementary aged students are struggling with the reading process.
For example, White and Dillow (2005) explained that nearly four in 10 fourth grade students are reading below a level considered basic, and those reading problems become more severe as children progress through high school. Meyer (2000) described that 80% of students with learning disabilities in the United States receiving special education services were identified as reading disabled. In the field of Special Education, the majority of referrals for support are for students struggling with the acquisition of reading skills.
Research in the area of reading demonstrates the method in which reading skills are developed. It has been well documented that a breakdown in the reading process is related to difficulty learning phonological awareness skills (the understanding that words can be broken down to smaller sounds). An individual with a problem in this area might not recognize that “dog” is made up of three sounds d/o/g. Phonological awareness has been studied for over 30 years and found to play a critical role in the reading process. Research in the area of reading disabilities provides unequivocal support demonstrating that a breakdown in phonological awareness disrupts a student’s ability to acquire the necessary skills to read fluently and comprehend.
It is a widely accepted fact that children will struggle with decoding words if they are not able to segment and blend the phonemes (sounds) within a word. Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of long-term reading ability and has been found to be a more robust indicator of literacy skills than intelligence and socioeconomic status.
When assessing a child’s phonological awareness skills, students are asked to categorize words on the basis of shared sounds, segment words into sounds, or pronounce parts of words by removing one or more sounds. What these tasks share in common is the emphasis on the phonological structure of the spoken word. Researchers have demonstrated that children who are successful on these tasks learn to read with greater ease than students who encounter difficulty.
There exists a great deal of evidence that children with reading disabilities also process information more slowly than their non – disabled peers. In addition to weak phonological processing, research into reading disabilities has demonstrated that deficits in rapid naming can contribute to a breakdown in reading (Bowers, 2001). Rapid naming is the ability to quickly name stimuli such as letters and numbers. Reading research indicates that young children who have difficulty with rapid naming often have weak reading skills.
Reading research is crucial because there is evidence that children who experience reading deficits have a hard time catching up to their peers. The “Matthew Effect” describes how good readers become better readers and poor readers become poorer readers has been observed for years. The Matthew Effect strengthens the importance of early reading intervention, one of the goals in the No Child Left Behind Act.