Wenatchee school district in Washington has adopted a new teaching method to tackle high levels of below-average literacy in children. ‘Structured literacy’ is based on brain-science and is a more intuitive way to learn English than traditional methods. The district had to rethink how they teach reading in part because of a new state law that mandates all children in grades K-2 be screened for dyslexia.
Districts are required to help students flagged by the screening by teaching them the main components of structured literacy. The four main components: phonological awareness, the ability to notice and distinguish different sounds in a word; phonics, the ability to match sounds to letters; orthography, the ability to write sounds down and spell words; and morphology, the knowledge of word roots, prefixes and suffixes.
There are signs that it could pay off. Since the district adopted structured literacy, some students’ scores on district reading assessments, given three times a year, are rising more quickly. Between fall and winter this year, the share of kindergartners meeting grade level standards grew from 20% in the fall to 55%. Progress has not been across the board though. Overall reading scores haven’t improved year over year at the district since the model rolled out. In some cases they’ve dropped, which leaders attribute to the pandemic. Just 23% of students started this year at grade level in reading, up to 41% this winter.
Reading is a fundamental basic for success in other subjects yet according to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 32 million of American adults are illiterate. Of those people, 21 percent read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates are functionally illiterate. That means they can’t read well enough to manage daily living and perform tasks required.
It may seem impossible that so many could graduate high school at a fifth grade reading level but sadly it is happening. Literacy goes far beyond the ability to read a book or write a letter. Illiteracy can cause immeasurable damage to an individual’s emotional and intellectual development, and often limits a person’s ability to achieve a fulfilling and successful adult life. Improving literacy in America requires not simply having an education system but one open to rethinking the teaching in place to ensure student success and Wenatchee School District is doing just that.