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Best Bets: Core Reading Programs and Interventions

A strong, core reading curriculum is essential for all students. As explained in the main article, all students benefit from direct instruction in key areas such as the alphabetic principle, phonemic awareness and decoding, vocabulary and general knowledge development, reading comprehension, word-recognition fluency, spelling, and writing. Tying all these together into a coherent curriculum that carefully builds students' knowledge and skills during elementary school is complex. Fortunately, teachers do not have to build a core reading curriculum from scratch. Several of the commercially available programs cover most of the key areas that are necessary in order to effectively teach most children to read. Because they must cover such a broad range of knowledge and skills, selecting the program that is right for your school is complicated. One useful tool for examining programs' strengths and weaknesses is A Consumer's Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program, Grades K–3: A Critical Elements Analysis. For a review of nine core reading programs based on the Guide's criteria, visit the Oregon Reading First Center's Web site.

Unfortunately, at least as of two years ago, most widely used basal reading programs were weak in promoting the background knowledge that children need to advance beyond a basic reading level. For more on this, see Kate Walsh's review of basal readers in the Spring 2003 issue of American Educator. To fill this major gap, we recommend Core Knowledge, a program that systematically builds students' background knowledge from preschool to eighth grade with a curriculum sequence, classroom materials, and professional development.

Intervention instruction is different from the core reading program in that it needs to be tailored to address individual students' skill deficits. Using the students' screening and/or diagnostic assessment scores as a guide, teachers identify which skills need to be re-taught and then calibrate the explicitness, intensity, and supportiveness of the intervention to match the deficits. Whether it takes just a few weeks or the whole school year, students must reach the average range in all reading skills. With the results of a screening assessment in hand, it may be tempting to develop an intervention that teaches narrowly to the assessment items on which the student did not do well. But, such narrow teaching would corrupt the accuracy of the subsequent progress-monitoring assessment. Students with skill deficits need consistent, systematic instruction and practice that go well beyond what can be done by teaching to the test.

With all of the tailoring that has to happen, it isn't always possible to select one early intervention program and use it—start to finish—with all struggling students. But instead of developing intervention lessons from scratch, teachers can use a complete intervention program for students with severe skill deficits and selected lessons from that program for students with just a few, smaller gaps in their reading skills. To address the full range of skill deficits that students have, teachers may prefer to keep a few intervention programs on hand, each dealing with a different set of skills. Reviews of early intervention programs are available online from the Florida Center for Reading Research and the Oregon Reading First Center.

The What Works Clearinghouse is currently investigating K–3 interventions to determine which are the most effective for different types of students and skill deficits.

–EDITORS