Although children do develop at different rates, attributing a struggling reader to immaturity is risky and usually unhelpful. Children, who are poor readers at the end of first grade, are most often still poor readers in fourth grade.
Early signs of reading problems should never be ignored or passed off as a developmental lag. It is never a good idea to “wait and see” if a child grows out it. The safest assumption is that early, direct teaching designed to help a struggling reader will minimize risks later on. If a child is taught the sounds, letters, words, and language comprehension skills necessary by the end of first grade, most of these children will avoid failure.
Reading intervention in kindergarten and first grade is more effective than intervention in fourth grade and older. This is because early intervention takes less time and resources to close the reading gap than using remediation strategies in reading later on. According to The National Institute of Child Health and Human Department, 90% of poor readers can increase reading skills to average reading levels with prevention and early intervention programs that combine instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, reading fluency, and reading comprehension provided by highly qualified and well-trained teachers. It takes four times as long to improve the skills of a struggling reader in fourth grade as it does to do so between mid-kindergarten and first grade. In other words, it takes two hours a day in fourth grade to have the same impact as thirty minutes a day in first grade. If intervention is not provided until nine years of age, approximately 75 to 88 % of these children will continue to have reading difficulties throughout high school and their adult lives.
Although there is a crucial window of opportunity (kindergarten to middle of first grade) parents need to know that it is never too late to help a struggling reader. Older children can be taught to read but the instruction may be harder to arrange, it will take more time, and it will require an intensive effort from the teacher, the student, and the parent.
On the whole, delayed intervention is costlier to everyone, including the child. These children will be more likely to develop confidence, enjoy reading, read more, and read better if they get off to the right start.
Karina Richland, M.A., is the Founder of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Southern California. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist and speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences. She is also the author of the PRIDE Reading Program, an Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading, writing and comprehension. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com