A $3.5 million grant to the UC Davis School of Education will bring reading instruction to 100 first-grade classrooms in Sacramento, Yolo and other counties in the region as well as in Houston, Texas, by next fall.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Science, focuses on students who are struggling with early reading. Teachers will be taught specific skills to work with children who have difficulty reading -- typically about one of every five students in a first-grade classroom, said Emily Solari, assistant professor of education at UC Davis.
"Data suggests that students who have trouble reading in first grade will struggle their whole academic career," said Solari. "It is very difficult, beyond second and third grade, to catch up."
Solari has worked for many years at UC Davis, and before that at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Children's Learning Institute on developing teaching methods and academic interventions for children who experience reading difficulty. She also directs, through UC Davis, a reading clinic for children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. That clinic operates in part from a $30,000 gift received last year from Sarah Cornett-Hagen, a private donor whose son had learning difficulties.
Solari and her colleagues have completed pilot projects in California and in Texas, funded by IES, where they've found that in small samples, individual attention and specific teaching methods improved both basic reading skills and reading comprehension.
An important piece is to help students comprehend what they read, she said.
"Sometimes we do a very good job teaching struggling readers to read single words and paragraphs, and they can read out loud to you, but they don't capture the meaning of what they have read," she said. She added that most reading intervention programs concentrate on reading fluency, not on systematically teaching reading comprehension.
Specific urban and rural schools where the program will operate will be identified during the summer months. After a 20-week program in first grade, students will be assessed again in second grade to see how well they maintained their skills.
"We have preliminary data to show this approach works for struggling readers," Solari said. "With this larger grant, we will be able to make a larger impact, touching more teachers and students."
Other researchers include Emilio Ferrer, professor of psychology at UC Davis; and Carolyn Denton and Tricia Zucker, both professors of pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center, Children's Learning Institute.