Following the Science so Every Child Can Read
The Nation’s Report Card from 2022, also known as the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), confirmed the significant learning loss many of us feared in the wake of the pandemic. While this “pandemic learning loss” is disconcerting, NAEP data in 2019 (before the pandemic) revealed that most American children–across every demographic–are not proficient readers in 4th grade. Fewer than 35 percent of children are reading proficiently, which means that approximately 65 percent of children are not proficient readers.
Suddenly, everyone is outraged and frightened about learning loss, despite decades of scores showing that our children are not reading. While the impact of the pandemic on academic achievement is indisputable, the national conversation is misleading. COVID has provided a scapegoat for our systems’ centuries of failure and injustice.
We do not accept the scapegoat. Absolutely: COVID has impacted children, adults, systems and education – there is no dispute. However, it is not because of COVID that we find most American children and communities disenfranchised by systemic failure. NAEP longitudinal data affirms what it has shown since its inception: the failure to teach our children to read belongs squarely with our national educational systems who have been failing to teach children to read for decades.
Historically, we have tolerated reading failure, perhaps even expecting it for some portion of the population. But in good conscience, how can we pick the four out of ten who will read, and the six out of ten who will fail to read?
Before the global pandemic, American children were already not being taught to read. This truth emerges with every NAEP reveal – despite decades of research that affirm nearly every child is equipped with the cognitive ability to learn to read, …when provided with the explicit instruction to support the brain’s translation of speech into text.
What we know is this: no child has an innate ability to read, they must be explicitly taught. Unlocking literacy for all children can be achieved by applying the science of reading, a body of research that defines how our brains learn to read and provides a clear roadmap for systematic and explicit instruction. Otherwise known as structured literacy, this science is based on neuroscience, and when followed, allows 95 percent of students to become skilled readers.
If the 2022 NAEP data is startling to you, good. You are paying attention, and your outrage is well-placed. If learning loss has kicked our systems of education into high gear, good! If the nation is finally locating the backbone to discontinue failed reading strategies, good! Finally examining how we are failing our children, and choosing instead to follow the science for EVERY child may be the silver-lining of COVID learning loss. It’s always the right time to do what’s right.
For more information about the Science of Reading, please visit cox.campus.org or email us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out if your child is receiving reading instruction that follows the science, check out this article from U.S. News and World Report.
 D. A. Kilpatrick, Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015); L. Lim et al., “Using the MULTILIT Literacy Instruction Program with Children Who Have Down Syndrome,” Reading and Writing 32 (2019): 2179–2200; P. G. Mathes et al., “The Effects of Theoretically Different Instruction and Student Characteristics on the Skills of Struggling Readers,” Reading Research Quarterly 40 (2005): 148–182; and J. K. Torgesen, “Avoiding the Devastating Downward Spiral: The Evidence That Early Intervention Prevents Reading Failure,” American Educator 28, no. 3 (2004): 6–9, 12–13, 17–19, 45–47.