Grattan Institute Setting Target for 90% of Kids to be Reading Proficiently in Long Term

Australian students are struggling to read, with new research revealing a third of children cannot read proficiently and their poor performance could cost Australia $40bn over their lifetimes. A new Grattan Institute report, The Reading Guarantee: How to give every child the best chance of success, shows students who struggle with reading are more at risk of falling behind their classmates, becoming disruptive or dropping out of school. The institute wants to set a long-term target for 90% of kids to be reading proficiently, with the proportion of proficient readers increasing by at least 15 percentage points over 10 years. It comes as the 2023 NAPLAN (National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy) testing identified 130,000 students requiring “additional support’’ to keep up with their classmates. Grattan Institute Education Program Director Jordana Hunter said Australia was failing these children, and the key cause to the reading problem had been decades of disagreement about how to teach reading.

Dr Hunter was on the panel of experts set up by federal Education Minister Jason Clare to advise on priorities for a 10-year National School Reform Agreement, which is being negotiated with state and territory governments this year. “It’s a preventable tragedy – the reason most of those students can’t read well enough is that we aren’t teaching them well enough,” she said. The institute believes all schools should use the “structured literacy” approach, which includes a focus on phonics in the early years. Parafield Gardens High in Adelaide has adopted a researched multi-tiered system of support to help struggling students catch up and to combat poor reading results. Principal Kirsty Amos said a large number of students aged 11 or 12 had found accessing the curriculum really difficult because they couldn’t understand the written word. The school’s approach begins with a literacy screening in year 7, examining NAPLAN and Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) results, as well as a writing sample.

Students who are identified as “at risk” are tested further on their decoding and comprehension abilities and then the student is allocated a reader profile and a corresponding tier of support. “When they go from struggling in every lesson of the day to being able to understand and they see their results, it’s really affirming for them,” Ms. Amos said. “They just enjoy school more.” In 2022, about half of the school’s 180 year 7 students were identified as at risk and of these, one in three had a decoding age of younger than 10. However, results were positive, with year 7 and 8 students gaining an average 2.25 years in decoding ability in 3½ terms. “A lot of students are not only meeting their chronological age with their decoding age, in some instances, they are completely – for lack of a better phrase – smashing it and they’re reaching the age of 14, 15 and 16,” literacy coordinator Stasha Demosthenous said. Parafield chose to invest into the program, which included training staff, hiring a speech pathologist and getting extra curriculum materials, but Ms. Amos said it had been worth it.

“Not only has achievement gone up over the past three years, but the gap between the lowest and the highest achieving student has decreased, which means that we are doing better in terms of equity significantly,” Ms. Paros said. The Grattan report has called on all Australian state and territory governments, and Catholic and independent school sector leaders, to commit to a six-step “reading guarantee”. “We need to transform the way we teach reading in school, so that every Australian child gets their best chance in life,” Dr Hunter said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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