This deep-rooted dilemma has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced by the 16 million students who missed more than 10% of school days during the 2021-22 school year. This figure is twice the number of absences seen in previous years, and these students were already struggling to read when they attended school regularly.

While the pandemic negatively impacted all students across the board, students with disabilities especially experienced a hindered education. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that nine-year-old students on average scored five points lower in reading, which is the most significant drop in decades. Students with disabilities, on the other hand, experienced an even greater drop in test scores, averaging about a seven-point decrease. Inevitably, these conditions lead to inequitable education and life outcomes for students.

District leaders need to integrate an approach based on the science of reading to overcome the literacy crisis. The science of reading is based on decades of research in developmental psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience to identify practical strategies for teaching kids to read and developing phonological awareness. Reading proficiency and comprehension are essential skills that affect the rest of a student’s life, both in and outside of school. By continuing to use tools that don’t work and leave students behind, the literacy crisis will continue to negatively impact students.


Finding Success in Evidence-Based Curriculum


Decades of research have established that explicit and scientifically based reading instruction are the most successful components that drive positive student literacy outcomes. Research suggests that over 90% of children could learn to read if their teachers used instructional practices grounded in the science of reading to build foundational skills. However, the same study also reflects that only 25% of programs adequately cover all five core components of scientifically based reading instruction, with another 25% not sufficiently covering even one component.

The bottom line is that teaching students to read requires deliberate and intentional planning — and so does shifting your school district’s curriculum to follow the science of reading. Not all science of reading-based programs are made equal, and a half-baked effort when implementing one will not set students up for success. To help our students develop proficient reading skills, we all must understand that teaching reading is not just an art but a science. Here is everything district leaders need to know about searching for a curriculum based on the science of reading so they can set their teachers up for success.


Developing Science of Reading Curriculum in 2024


For students to become proficient readers, they must be able to recognize written words, understand their meanings, and build their reading skills. To achieve this, school leaders should look for a science of reading curriculum program based on proven effective reading practices such as phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. These essential elements allow teachers to reach every student in the classroom no matter their reading level.

An effective science of reading program has to have three main elements: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, and content knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension, all of which are the building blocks of reading instruction. These categories are the building blocks of an effective science of reading program.


Integral Components of an Effective Science of Reading Program


Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness describes the ability to understand, think about, and manipulate the individual sounds in words. These are also called phonemes, which are the smallest units of spoken language that combine to form words.

Researchers regard phonemic awareness as one of the most critical components of effective systematic instruction. Students must master these skills to become fluent in reading and proficient in spelling. They also need a strong foundation of competency in this area to make sense of phonics and other important reading comprehension strategies going forward. 


Phonics Instruction

Phonics instruction teaches students the correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters and a system for remembering how to read words. This is essential for students to develop four primary skills: print awareness, sight words, alphabetic and decoding, and word analysis.


Content Knowledge, Vocabulary, and Comprehension

The science of reading research suggests that content knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension have a strong relationship with one another because each works together to build strong reading abilities. As students continue to develop their reading skills, these three elements are essential in not only identifying the word they’re reading but also deriving meaning from the text, building on the knowledge they already have, and applying it to their lives outside of the classroom.


Review ESSA Ratings


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was developed to replace the No Child Left Behind Act and is now the main law that affects K–12 public education in the United States. ESSA ensures public schools provide a quality education for all kids while still giving states a central role in how their schools account for student achievement.

Educators should search for research-proven literacy programs with complementary ESSA ratings. These ratings allow educators to determine whether or not a program is effective. ESSA ratings are based on four tiers of evidence, with programs that have the strongest rating closest to 1.


Under ESSA, each state creates its education plan for its schools while abiding by a framework provided by the federal government. These ratings indicate the value and effectiveness of a science of reading program, making ESSER ratings a guiding component for district leaders to consider when selecting a program.


Encouraging Individualized Learning


Personalized instruction allows students to progress at their own pace and spend more time on areas they actively struggle with. By recognizing and catering to the unique needs of each student, individualized learning instruction fosters engagement, motivation, and improved learning outcomes through all instructional practices.

Software as a Service (SaaS) products in particular are an effective way for schools to integrate learning programs based on the science of reading into their curriculum. By leveraging cloud-based solutions, educational institutions can provide students and educators with invaluable tools that allow them to tailor each student’s learning journey to their individual needs.


Gathering Data on Student Progress


Data-driven decisions are increasingly recognized as a critical component of K-12 education. They are key mechanisms for enhancing personalized learning solutions, optimizing resource allocation, and detecting the need for early intervention. These decisions are informed by analyzing various types of data such as academic achievement, non-academic factors, program and systems data, and perception data. Gathering data on student progress helps educators make informed choices that directly affect student learning and the effectiveness of classroom activities.

School leaders must also look for a program that prioritizes convenient data management. When data collection becomes too tedious, educators lose meaningful time that could be put towards ensuring students get the support they need, right when they need it. Applicable and convenient data will set teachers up for success in making informed decisions in the classroom that benefit all students.


Applying Structured Literacy Approach


A Structured Literacy approach rooted in the science of reading, like Orton-Gillingham, offers explicit instruction and systematic instruction tailored to the individual needs of every student. Orton-Gillingham offers a multisensory, systematic, and direct approach to teaching phonics and is renowned for improving reading success in all students, specifically those who have dyslexia. However, this approach has been proven to help not only students with dyslexia but all students at every reading level. As a pioneer of the multi-sensory movement to teach reading, this approach instructs educators to use sight, hearing, touch, and movement to connect students with language with letters and words.

By breaking down the smallest components that make up reading comprehension, all students are set up to succeed. Structured Literacy instruction is composed of these important elements:



Identifying and Avoiding Curriculum Red Flags


Be wary of any curriculum strategies that leave room for guessing and need clarity on their practical implementation in a real-time classroom setting.

Curriculum information must be presented in a clear and accessible way, enabling educators to easily understand and implement it in their classrooms. When teachers are offered explicit instruction and extensive support, they are equipped with the necessary resources to apply the science of reading and Structured Literacy in the classroom. In practice, this entails providing teachers with clear guidance and even scripted instructions that specify how activities should be conducted.


What is the Best Approach in a Reading Curriculum?


The Orton-Gillingham method is the gold standard to teach all students, specifically those with dyslexia. IMSE offers tailored training courses and Structured Literacy training courses based on Orton-Gillingham and rooted in the science of reading. The perfect program will cover all essential components of reading, including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. These strategies have been proven to be effective in helping students develop skilled reading competencies.


How Long Should A Curriculum Be Implemented?


Every student is different, which means that the time it takes for each student to connect with their coursework will vary. The effectiveness of a science of reading-based curriculum may take longer depending on each student’s individual needs. However, for district leaders to achieve better literacy outcomes across the board, a curriculum should remain consistent, especially if it is already based on the science of reading, Structured Literacy, and Orton-Gillingham.


Elevate Your Student’s Curriculum with IMSE’s Program


IMSE provides a range of products and training programs to transform your curriculum and unlock students’ reading potential. Districts that participate in IMSE’s literacy training have access to in-person and virtual programs for both educators and districts. IMSE’s literacy training is flexible to provide educators with access to science of reading resources at their convenience.

Based on the science of reading and Structured Literacy, the strategies that teachers will learn in IMSE’s program are also proven and easy to apply in the classroom to drive immediate results. Post-training support is even offered to support teachers after they’ve completed the course to ensure their classrooms are set up to succeed. Reading matters, and how it is taught matters even more. 


FAQs About Science of Reading Curriculum


What are the Five Components of the Science of Reading?

Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and sight words, and comprehension.


Is Orton-Gillingham Based on the Science of Reading?

Yes, it aligns with the science of reading, employing multisensory techniques to support effective literacy instruction. Developed in the 1930s by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham, this method was created to help students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. It is a combination of the science of reading with multi-sensory teaching methods to reach all students.


What Programs Support the Science of Reading?

Explore IMSE’s certification programs to harness the power of evidence-based literacy instruction rooted in the science of reading. From virtual and in-person training options to college credit and accreditation opportunities, IMSE has a program for every educator looking to invest in their career and incorporate the science of reading in their classrooms.


How Should the Science of Reading Be Taught?

Effective strategies to teach reading involve explicit instruction of phoneme-letter connections, and systematic instruction of phonic and word recognition practices, supporting both reading and writing skills. Explicit instruction builds the necessary foundational skills and knowledge that make more advanced tasks accessible to students.


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