Schools should not wait for students to fail to learn to read and should proactively ensure no child leaves primary school without proficient reading skills.
That was the key message Canberra-based researcher Jessica Colleu Terradas took away from travels to the United Kingdom, France and United States as part of her Churchill Fellowship study.
While working as a special education teacher in a Western Australian high school, she was concerned about the numbers of students who had become "instructional casualties" because they hadn't been taught to read in primary school.
"I was witnessing kids coming into high school severely at risk, unable to read. Some of them were three to six years behind in their reading levels and functioning at a year 1 reading level," Miss Colleu Terradas said.
"It's a moral obligation that we hold to do something about those kids that should be leaving primary school able to read, let alone leaving high school able to read, so they can have a successful life."
Miss Colleu Terradas was employed as a literacy coach in South Australia to promote evidence-based reading instruction and support the implementation of the phonics check in 2018.
She has since moved to the ACT where she is now the senior officer of teaching and learning literacy and instructional coach with the Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese.
As part of the Churchill Fellowship, she first visited France where every school has universal screening check that is administered three times between year one and year two and again in year six. The data available for parents within 48 hours and the education department can use it to make strategic decisions.
She then went to United Kingdom where they have seen progress in reading comprehension levels since the introduction of a phonics check in 2012. The UK education department has also provided a list of endorsed, evidence-based phonics programs so educators can be sure they are using quality materials grounded in research.
Miss Colleu Terradas went to schools in Blackpool, a disadvantaged town in Northern England where a group of high schools are participating in an initiative to lift literacy levels.
Her time in the US included visiting the state of Ohio state which passed the right to read law in 2021, also known as the Ohio Dyslexia law.
She also went to schools in Portland, Oregon and North Carolina that have achieved outstanding results through direct instruction, scripted literacy programs
Her final report recommends all Australian states and territories use universal screening as soon as students start school to catch reading difficulties earlier.
It also recommends schools adopt a multi-tiered system of support including small-group and one-on-one tutoring to ensure students catch up before reading gaps become worse. Lastly, it calls for current and preservice teachers to get training in effective reading instruction methods.
"We want to shift from that reactive, wait-to-fail, a deficit model to a more preventive approach where we're more proactive," she said.
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