Imagine that two elementary age readers take a standardized reading test. Both readers perform poorly on the test. Yet, there are significant differences between the two readers. One reader, often called a garden variety poor reader in the research literature, may perform poorly because he or she didn’t learn important pre-reading skills before entering school. The other reader, called a reading disabled reader, may perform poorly because they have a disability (e.g., dyslexia) that inhibits his or her ability to learn how to read. The difference between the two readers is important in deciding the approach educators take in teaching the child to learn to read. But, how do you tell when reader is a poor reader because of environmental consequences, or because of an inherent disability?
Research has shown that approximately 20 percent of U.S. children enter school at risk for reading failure. Schools typically respond to this concern by utilizing early identification and intervention procedures designed to prevent the occurrence of reading failure. Most often, these procedures rely on the heavy use of phonics based methods. These methods are often referred to as “best practice” procedures because they have been shown in rigorous research studies to improve the reading skills of many students at risk for reading failure.