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Wisconsin’s dismal performance in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress should come as no surprise given the disparity between what science recommends and what actually happens in classrooms.

Scientifically-based methods require:

• Instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

• Instruction that is direct, intensive, systematic, and begun early.

The educational establishment pays only superficial attention to the phonics issue, and adheres to the notion that any method requiring repetition and practice is akin to child abuse, maintaining that it’s better to encourage children to read, offer gentle assistance and maintain a literature-rich environment.

While those are important, there’s no evidence suggesting that they alone suffice, especially for those at greatest risk of reading failure  — the poor, minorities, children with learning impediments and English-language learners.

We need to replace the “wait to fail” model with one in which “failure is not an option.” This can only come about if teachers teach directly, assess frequently and apply the appropriate interventions immediately.  Yes, it’s difficult, but it works.

— Anthony Pedriana, River Falls, former teacher and principal;

author, “Leaving Johnny Behind”

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