Children who can’t read by the third grade struggle in school year after year and usually don’t catch up with their peers.
Spokane educators said reading is such a fundamental skill that it must be mastered in the first and second grades so other subjects can be taught effectively.
They delivered their message to a panel of state legislators meeting in Spokane Wednesday night on the subject of reading.
Mary Birmingham, a second-grade teacher at Cataldo Catholic School, said in 20-plus years of classroom experience she knows what happens to students who can’t read.
They withdraw and lose confidence.
“I’ve seen them almost slide under their desks hoping the teacher won’t call on them because they don’t know how to read,” Birmingham said.
The Legislature last session adopted a law requiring statewide tests of all third-graders to make sure they know how to read.
“Success in reading will provide success in education,” said state Rep. Peggy Johnson, R-Shelton, who sponsored the bill. “Children are greatly handicapped when they are not able to read.”
Johnson is heading a subcommittee that’s traveling around the state looking for ways to help educators do a better job teaching reading.
Elementary teachers said they share the frustration of children who can’t read well.
“Teachers are working harder than they ever have today, but they are surrounded by failure,” said Susan Hornor, a teacher at Evergreen Elementary School.
She said children should be reading at least two hours a week by the third and fourth grades.
Hornor and other teachers talked about innovative ways to teach reading to 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds.
In Spokane, some elementary schools have adopted a First Steps program that combines recognition of the sounds of letters, known as phonics, with a child’s existing knowledge of the spoken word.
Teachers said each child’s skill level must be measured, and reading lessons should be geared to each child’s ability.
Linda Lee, a reading teacher at Bemiss Elementary School in northeast Spokane, said her students showed strong gains in comprehension and vocabulary after two years of adopting this integrated reading program.
Children from low-income or illit erate families have more trouble learning the basics, they said. Those students need extra work learning the 44 sounds of the alphabet, and how those sounds are blended into understandable words.