"A friend who is a teacher says, ‘Reading is the new civil right.' A child who can read is a child who can dream about the future...and make that dream come true."

~Laura Bush, Early Childhood Cognitive Summit, 2002

Reading is a life-long skill that is necessary for success in our society and yet many students with and without disabilities have difficulty learning to read. Recently, tremendous attention and research have been devoted toward finding out what works in teaching children to read. The National Reading Panel has found that effective reading instruction focused on developing skills in these five areas: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and oral reading (or fluency). These five areas are now known as the 5 Building Blocks of Reading.

The Five Building Blocks of Teaching Children to Read

Learning to read doesn't just happen at school. Early literacy skills begin at home and continue to grow and develop as a child progresses through school. Reading research tells us that there are five building blocks for teaching children to read. These are identified in both the No Child Left Behind Act and the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004).

  1. Phonemic Awareness: the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds or phonemes in spoken words
  2. Phonics: the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language)
  3. Fluency: the word for being able to read quickly and accurately
    Fluent readers recognize words automatically.
  4. Comprehension: understanding what we read
  5. Vocabulary: the name for the words we must know in order to listen, speak, read, and write effectively

*Research shows that it takes mastery of all five areas to read effectively. Knowledge of letter-sound relationships and comprehension go hand-in-hand. If children can sound out the words, but don't understand what they are reading, they're not really reading.

For more information, read "Put Reading First (Kindergarten Through Grade 3) The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read"

National Institute for Literacy Resources

National Institute for Literacy offers the Shining Stars series. As your child's first teacher, these booklets offer ideas on how to help your child get ready and learn to read.

How to Read Your Child's Reading Scores

Teachers use a leveling system to determine your child's reading score. Learn about the three major leveling systems and how to understand the meaning behind the scores.

Is your child a G or an L? A 13 or a 24? As a second grader, is a DRA 32 a good reading score?

In most schools, and especially around report card time, kids come home with reports that detail a child's reading level. Oftentimes, these reports make little sense to parents. While most kids make terrific progress during the school year, parents sometimes struggle to make the same progress in interpreting reading scores and different leveling systems.

Most schools use one of three major leveling systems to define a child's reading level: Guided Reading, Reading Recovery, and Developmental Reading Assessment. Although some variations exist, the procedure for determining a child's reading score follows a sequence. First, a teacher (or school) chooses a benchmark book for a grading period. Then, each child sits one-on-one with a teacher and reads that book. The teacher reads along with a child and keeps track of the child's reading accuracy. After the story is read, teachers typically ask for a retelling of the book, or may ask some comprehension questions. With each assessment, a teacher is trying to find the level at which a child can read with 90 to 95% accuracy with good comprehension. That is considered your child's instructional reading level.

Here's a little about each leveling system, and a chart that shows you how they relate to each other and to a grade level assignment.

Guided Reading levels

This leveling system is based on the understanding that good teachers carefully match a reader with a book. Based on several characteristics of a book, such as text length, and vocabulary, books are assigned a Guided Reading letter. There are 26 levels, identified by letters A-Z (A being the easiest), and each book level has its own characteristics. If your child is "reading on a Level G," for example, he or she is able to read books with several events and a variety of characters. Sentences are longer than in previous levels, and the book may contain more difficult high-frequency words.

Reading Recovery

This leveling system is based on Reading Recovery, a one-on-one intervention program designed for low achieving first graders. Books used within this intervention program are grouped by characteristics and range from 1-50 (1 being the easiest). As with Guided Reading, books within a certain level share similar features. If your child is, "reading on a Level 2," he or she is able to follow a pattern within a book after it has been introduced by the teacher.

Developmental Reading Assessment

The Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) is a series of leveled books and recording sheets designed to allow teachers to determine students' reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension levels. Texts range from A-80 (A being the easiest). In most schools, teachers collect DRA information at the end of each grading period to determine student progress. Students are determined to be near, at, or above grade level, below grade level, or significantly below grade level based on their performance.

As a parent, it's important to understand the leveling system used at your school and how your child is doing toward meeting grade level expectations. Keep track of those letters and numbers being sent home, and if you don't see progress in your child's reading level, make an appointment to sit down with the teacher.

Written by Joanne Meier, 2009

Questions Parents Can Ask About Reading Improvement

Parents of children with disabilities who are receiving "special education" reading instruction need information to participate in writing the IEP (Individualized Education Program) and in working with their children at home. When speaking with your child's teacher(s) or education specialist, use the following questions to help you gather the information you need in the boxes provided. And remember if you do not understand something, ask to have it explained thoroughly.

If you have questions about your child's overall reading progress, ask:

  1. What is my child's grade level in reading? What does that mean she can do?
  2. Where does she need to improve?
  3. Is there a difference between how well my child reads individual words and how well she understands what she reads? If so, what can we do to improve the weaker areas?
  4. Are you using a specific program to teach my child? If so, what skills does this program teach?
  5. If you are not using a specific program, what strategies are you using to teach my child to identify words, read smoothly and understand what he reads?
  6. What kinds of things are you doing to help my child succeed in reading? (such as provide support by a reading specialist, provide different materials)
  7. What can I do at home to help my son/daughter read well?
    (For example: Can you suggest workshops, reading lists, parent/child materials that I may borrow, or website supports?)
  8. How will I be notified about my child's reading gains? Can you update me every 2-3 weeks?

If you have questions about word recognition, sounds and fluency in reading ask:

  1. Has my child ever been tested for language and sound awareness? If so, how recently and what did the testing show?
  2. What is being done in the classroom to help my child avoid pausing unnecessarily at words?
  3. What strategies are being taught to help my child work through difficult sounds or words when reading?
  4. What are some books, poems, nursery rhymes, word games, books, videos, audio materials, etc. that I can use at home to help my child with word recognition, sounds and/or reading aloud?
  5. For practicing reading at home, would you help me select material(s) that my child can read comfortably (i.e., where 90% of the words are ones my child knows)?

If you have questions about reading comprehension ask:

  1. When my child is having trouble understanding what she reads, what do you do to help her understand the material?
  2. Would you show me what you are doing?
  3. Can you tell me about some other activities that I can do at home to help her understand what she reads?
  4. What resources can you give me to use at home to help my child?
  5. What kinds of activities can we do before and after my child has read to help her understand the information?

If you have questions about reading instruction in other subject areas ask:

  1. Which accommodations does my child need in core academic and special area classes to support her reading, writing and spelling needs? (You need to make sure that the special ways of addressing these literacy needs are specifically described in your child's IEP.)
  2. What are my child's other teachers doing to support and help her in light of her reading, writing and/or spelling needs?


This document was created through a collaborative effort by parents, educational consultants, teachers, professors from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte, and ECAC Staff. Funding has been p rovided by The North Carolina State Improvement Project, Public Schools of North Carolina, Exceptional Children Division.

Download the PDF: Questions Parents Can Ask About Reading Improvement

Words About Reading That You Might Hear at an IEP Meeting

  • Automaticity - fast, effortless recognition
  • Blending - combining individual sounds in a word, or combining syllables to make words (for example: /b/i/b/ is big)
  • Decode - to be able to make out a word by correctly recognizing the different letter sounds in the word
  • Fluency - ability to read a text accurately and quickly, often with expression
  • Multi-syllable - (also called poly syllabic) a word that contains more than one partor syllable (for example: computer, raining, supported)
  • Oral Language Difficulties - poor vocabulary, listening comprehension, or grammatical abilities for one's age
  • Phonics - ability to use knowledge of individual letter sounds to "sound out" words when reading
  • Phonemic Awareness - ability to hear and manipulate sounds in spoken words (for example: oral producing rhyming words, isolating letter sounds in spoken words and blending sounds)
  • Reading Comprehension - ability to independently read and understand the meaning of sentences, paragraphs or entire texts
  • Sight Word - high-frequency words which make up about 50 percent of the words we read and often cause children problems (for example: I, a, and, am, at, on, me)
  • Syllable - having one word part (for example: tea)
  • Visual Perceptual Abilities - the ability to recognize and visually distinguish between the letters in words

Developed by the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center, Davidson, NC, (704) 892-1321

Click to download a printable PDF of Words About Reading That You Might Hear at an IEP Meeting

Resources for Students with Learning Disabilities

National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials - Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) are specialized formats of curricular content that can be used by, and with, students who are unable to read or use standard print materials. - An accessible online library for people with print disabilities - A leading provider of audio textbooks and also delivers parent services, webinars and tools for managing learning differences

Dyslexia: A Blessing and A Curse - PowerPoint by Margie Gillis, Ed.D.

Get ready to read - a brief article from the National Center on Learning Disabilities about potential instructional strategies and answers the questions; What kind of instruction does a child with dyslexia need? and What can parents do?

Effective Reading Interventions for Kids with Learning Disabilities - This article includes research-based information and advice for sizing up reading programs and finding the right one for your child with a learning disability.

Reading Tips for Parents - Available in English and 10 other languages and for parents of children with disabilities

Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities - Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities® is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the parents of children with learning disabilities (LD) and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). - LD is the world's leading website on learning disabilities and ADHD, serving more than 200,000 parents, teachers, and other professionals each month.