Last week, the Washington Post released an article written by a “mom, former teacher, and full-time attorney” that blasted the early literacy Common Core standards. The author presented her own children’s experiences with early literacy as evidence that the Common Core expectations were too high. Her rationale: Her family is wealthy, high-achieving, and literate, yet one her children did not meet the Reading Foundational Common Core Standards in kindergarten; therefore, the standards are bad.
We have written previously about why pushing early reading is silly from a neurological perspective. However, the Common Core Standards DO NOT push developmentally inappropriate early reading.
The Kindergarten Common Core are based on skills that best predict future reading success. It is possible that some children who don’t meet the standards will catch up, but many will not unless teachers intervene. Once there is a reading gap, it is very difficult if not impossible to close. Research has documented this phenomenon and labeled it “the Matthew Effect,” with good readers getting better and poor readers getting worse.
In the past decade, educators have primarily taught beginning readers using haphazard tips such as “look at the picture, skip a hard word and figure it out from the rest of the sentence,” or “try to sound it out, ” under a “Whole Language Approach” to literacy. However, there is limited to no research to support that this type of instruction helps children with reading difficulties. The Common Core Standards now require systematic phonics and word study instruction, which will require a change in practice for many schools. The skills outlined in the Common Core are well documented goal areas to both prevent children from struggling in reading and to help dyslexic students improve.
Under older models of qualifications for learning disabilities services, educators used to follow a wait and see approach, often waiting until third grade to intervene with struggling readers. Research overwhelmingly shows that most children do not catch up to their peers. Under the new Response to Intervention (RTI) approach for services, educators can help children who exhibit potential risk factors early, preventing a reading gap from ever forming.
What are the Common Core Kindergarten Reading Standards?
The Common Core Standards for Reading are organized into three general areas: Reading: Informational Text, Reading: Literature, and Reading: Foundational Skills.
In the Common Core, Foundational skills are specific skills that are needed to decode text, or say the words on the page, while the other two areas relate to comprehension of text. At the Kindergarten Level, the Reading Literature and Reading Information Text Standards are based on auditory comprehension and expressive language skills. This means, children listen to books and discuss them. No child reading involved!
Reading Common Core Foundational Skill expectations at the kindergarten level include:
- Print Awareness Skills: Ability to hold a book appropriately, know where text starts, and understand that each spoken word maps to one group of letters separated by a space.
Most children learn these skills by sitting with a parent/teacher and watching the adult read.
- Phonological Awareness: Ability to recognize that language is composed of sounds.
Children who do not have strong phonological awareness in kindergarten are highly at risk for dyslexia.
- Phonics: Ability to attach letters to sounds.
80% of English words are regularly decodable, meaning they follow patterns and specific rules that govern both sounds and syllables. In Kindergarten, students need to know basic letter names and the single sound that connects to each letter, with both long and short sounds for the five vowels. 20% of English words do not follow patterns, and must be learned either through rote visual memorization or through etymological studies. Common Core also requires familiarity with a few of these "sight" words (e.g. "the, a, you, do") that must be memorized visually. Recent brain research from the University of Buffalo shows that specifically targeting phonics changes brain structures, while a Whole Language Approach to reading does not.
- Fluency: Ability to read with speed and ease.
Research by KU Leuven neuroscientists show that children with dyslexia have fewer and less directional neuronal connections in the brain that connect areas needed to process sounds (phonological awareness), orthography(phonics), and meaning (vocabulary). This results in poor fluency, or ease of connecting sounds to print. Training in phonics embedded with phoneme awareness activities improve these pathways.
This Fluency standard has the most opposition because it states that children should "read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding."
What is an emergent reader and what should our kindergarten students be able to "read" by the end of the year?
An emergent reader text has these features:
•Words that are no longer that 3-4 letters
•Every letter maps onto one specific sound in a phonetically regular fashion. For example:
My cat is fat. The cat sat on a mat.
•The only words that do not follow a one-one correspondence of sound to letter are the most common words "sight words."
•Note: Some emergent reader texts may have harder, longer words if the sentence structure remains the same on every page with one word changing, and the picture depicts the change (e.g. The boy is swimming. The boy is climbing. The boy is eating. The boy is sleeping.) For books like this, the child is not really "reading" most of the words. He or she is memorizing the sentence structure, using the picture, and pulling from known vocabulary to figure out the one new word. This type of book is excellent for developing fluency with "sight" words.
The Reading Fluency Standard in kindergarten can be accomplished almost entirely by targeting phoneme awareness and basic letter-sound connections, as this is all that emergent texts require. Some kindergarten teachers may be pushing their kindergartener students to do more, but it is not mandated by the Common Core. There is also no research to support that Kindergartners need to do more in order to be effective readers later. Furthermore, children who can read at higher levels in kindergarten are not statistically more likely to be ahead of their peers by third grade.
Intervention Does not Equal Boring
The Washington Post author calls early literacy supports “repetitive, phonics and decoding focused response to intervention (“RTI”) or similar programs.” This statement makes interventions sound dreadful.
In our experience, children LIKE phoneme awareness and phonics activities when they are presented through multi-sensory activities. For example, duck-duck-sound is a favorite activity where children sit in a circle as if to play “Duck-Duck-Goose.” The “tagger” taps each child’s head saying a sound of a word. When the child says the whole word, it means “goose!” This activity meets Common Core phonological awareness. Or teachers can create hopscotch squares with letters written inside. Children hop to each box, saying the sound that the letter makes. This activity meets phonics standards.
There are literally hundreds of ways to make the Reading Foundational Common Core skills engaging and fun! Common Core does not dictate which activities teachers must complete, only that teachers must address the skills.
National Standards = Equal Expectations
The Washington Post author concludes her piece stating “P.S. I think this story also explains why the developmentally inappropriate expectations of the CCSS reading foundational standards are only going to widen, rather than narrow, the achievement gap.”
Common Core standards are based on skills that almost all successful readers CAN and DO accomplish in Kindergarten. Having some form of national standard ensures that children from all neighborhoods are held to the same high academic standards that the author appears to hold for her own children. As experts in the field of early language and literacy development, we support the Common Core Kindergarten Literacy Common Core Standards.
About the Authors
Jennifer Preschern, MA CCC-SLP, MA Learning Disabilities, School Administration Certification and Naomi Konikoff, MS CCC-SLP are co-owners of Speech Language Literacy Lab, an educational publication, consulting, and therapy service specializing in providing research-based interventions in the areas of language and literacy.
They can be reached at:
Jennifer Preschern firstname.lastname@example.org
Naomi Konikoff email@example.com
More information on the Reading Foundational Common Core Standards and Developmentally Appropriate FUN Activities to meet them: