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Every Child A Reader,
There is a crisis in California that demands our immediate attention. National and state reports indicate that a majority of California's children cannot read at basic levels. This reading failure begins in the early grades and has a harmful effect for a lifetime. Only a call to action at the highest levels, one that can marshal both human and fiscal resources and bring this story to the public, can be expected to address this crisis. . . .
The Task Force members were unanimous in their conviction that reading is the most important academic skill and the foundation for all academic learning. If our children cannot read, they are on the road to failure. Teaching children to read must be our highest priority. . . .
The Task Force concluded that the 1987 English-Language Arts Framework did not present a comprehensive and balanced reading program and gave insufficient attention to a systematic skills instruction program. . . .
The Task Force reviewed research materials and received testimony from various reading experts about what works in effective, comprehensive beginning reading programs. Based on its findings, the Task Force concluded that many language arts programs have shifted too far away from direct skills instruction. It was determined that a balanced and comprehensive approach to reading must have: (1) a strong literature, language, and comprehension program that includes a balance of oral and written language; (2) an organized, explicit skills program that includes phonemic awareness (sounds in words), phonics, and decoding skills to address the needs of the emergent reader; (3) ongoing diagnosis that informs teaching and assessment that ensure accountability; and (4) a powerful early intervention program that provides individual tutoring for children at risk of reading failure.
The Task Force also concluded that teacher education and in-service training must be redesigned with a greater emphasis on beginning reading. . . .
Skills development is critical in beginning reading. These skills should be directly taught and each child's ability should be assessed. Kindergarten students need to develop phonemic awareness. The formal reading process should begin in first grade where students are taught skills explicitly and have extensive practice using these skills by reading quality literature. .. .
Writing and spelling are absolutely necessary for good reading skills. . . .
Children who continue to have difficulties with reading up to and including high school should continue to receive assistance in reading. . . .
Students in need of additional help should be identified no later than mid-first grade and appropriate support strategies must be available.
Each school and district must have an action plan for students who do not meet the specified standards. Early intervention programs, including one-to-one instructional support from a highly trained tutor, reading specialist, or other trained personnel, are essential so that children do not slip through the cracks of reading difficulty into reading failure. . . .
A set of performance standards in reading and writing for the elementary grades should be established. The goal is that every student should be reading independently and comprehending fully no later than the third grade. . . .
The conclusion is clear. Too many children in California are not learning to read and we must take immediate action to solve this problem. Children who cannot read will not be successful in school or in life. If we lose sight of this simple fact, we will lose a generation of children.
The call to action is equally clear. Reading must be the first priority of everyone who cares about children. We must all work together and focus our human and fiscal resources on making effective reading instruction a reality for every child. Political expediencies and professional infighting have no place when so much of the future is at stake.
Our crisis in reading is serious. It is time to act.
California Department of Education, Sacramento, 1995