Why don’t we identify reading problems early?

Here’s what the research shows on reading problems:

  • About 25% of children are at-risk for reading difficulties and need a boost in the earliest years.
  • A risk for reading difficulties can be identified as early as age 4.
  • Of the readers who later struggle, many are solid early on in some skills but not all—and they fall through the cracks.

Yet in reality, children’s reading problems are often not identified until the late elementary school years

Or even later still! If early intervention works and identifying problems isn’t that difficult, why are so many kids overlooked?

  1. No tracking system. There are quick and easy ways to find out if a child is on track or lagging behind, but this kind of monitoring is not part of the approach in pediatricians’ offices, preschools, or even kindergarten classrooms. While testing the youngest children is not always a popular idea, there are many reasons why it makes good sense to give children periodic, play-like assessments—or have parents complete checklists about children’s milestones and words—that will let us know if they have reached important benchmarks, from age 2 onwards.
  2. Children are often in different settings from year to year. When a child hits the age to move from one room in the childcare center to another, or moves from a preschool classroom to a kindergarten classroom, and then to the elementary grades, the consequence is that different adults are paying attention to that child’s reading development each year. In other words, no one person is charged with overseeing each child’s reading-related skills from the earliest days, and that increases the chance for an information breakdown.
  3. Not enough knowledge in the system. There is also the issue of variation in educator training. Once a child enters school, identifying issues is often dependent upon the child’s individual teacher. That means that a child may or may not be identified depending on what that particular teacher knows about learning to read, and whether she has been given materials and support to monitor readers’ progress and identify children who need extra help. The average educator has, at best, only taken one course in how to teach reading. So in too many cases, it’s often not until a child is visibly and significantly struggling, for a long period of time, that he or she is finally identified for support.

So in the end, it’s important that parents track and monitor children’s reading-related skills from the earliest years—but they need the knowledge and tools to do that. With parental oversight, there’s a better chance for better reading outcomes for kids.

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