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Is Your First Grader Struggling with Reading?

“Your child is reading below grade level.”

You just found out that your first grader struggling with reading. How can this be? The school journey has just begun. Then the line after that goes something like this, “Your child needs to read more.” One reason that your first grader may be struggling is because they haven’t been provided the skills needed to read words, much less work on comprehension.

“Practice with the little books.”

“The simple truth was that a child when confronted by a word and a picture, will look at the picture first. The more attractive the picture, the more it will interfere with learning.”

Rudolf Flesch,
Why Johnny Still Can’t Read

Do these look familiar? These little books contain pictures that match the text. The sentences are loaded with sight words that have been memorized by your child. Let’s take the image on the left as an example. A child can read “penguin,” “dive,” and “sea” because there is a picture clue for each term. The child just needs to look at the first letter then at the picture to figure out the word. The words “look,” “at,” “the,” “can,” “it,” and “to” are all taught as sight words. These have already been memorized. But, it looks like your child is reading, right?

A child reading this book is not learning how to read new words.

Ever heard of the 4th-grade slump? Next, your first grader who reads below grade level will become a 4th grade struggling reader. By the time a student enters fourth grade, they should be reading 110+ words per minute with at least a 98% accuracy rate. Take a look at a beginning of the year 4th-Grade Oral Reading Fluency Test. Do you think reading books with repeated words and phrases and picture hints is going to help your child achieve these new benchmarks? I’ve worked with many 9-year old struggling readers who can’t read simple words such as “fed,” “band,” and “click.”

Oh! Let’s not forget that instead of teaching your child to read, these “reading strategies” are encouraged.
“Look at the picture!” “Try a word that makes sense!”
And when you hear your first grader read, they substitute words, make guesses, insert words, or skip words entirely! They will continue to struggle and their self-confidence will tank.
Please don’t encourage these methods. These habits are hard to break!

Get help for your struggling reader.

“Your child has improved three levels!”

Not so fast. What if I told you that the most common assessments used to determine a student’s level are deeply flawed? In one study the researchers found the Benchmark Assessment System by Fountas and Pinnell used widely in schools, only accurately identified 48% of at-risk students (Durwin et al., 2017). In a different study, the Informal Reading Inventory, also provided by F&P, only accurately identified 54% of at-risk students (Parker et al., 2015).

That means that the test is only right about half the time. The other side of this coin is that your child may need extra support and is probably not receiving intervention at the most critical time. The test has failed to identify your child as at-risk.

Again, 4th-grade slump. It’s a thing. Google it. There are no more pictures to help children read words. Children guess when they don’t know a word and now their comprehension is affected. Those “reading strategies” above aren’t helpful. Kids gets discouraged and begin to disengage.

And the vicious cycle of intervention continues. Your first grader will continue to struggle with reading for years.
The goal is getting further and further out of reach.

The Solution

What can you do to keep your first grade struggling reader from becoming a 4th grader who reads below grade level?

You can teach your child yourself or you can schedule a time to meet with us to get set up with 1:1 tutoring.

1. We use a more reliable measure to evaluate your child’s reading ability.

You can read more about DIBELS here.

2. We’ll set a schedule and payment plan. We’ll need to meet at least three times per week because frequency is crucial at this point. Your child is behind and the goal is increasing. There is so much work to do to catch up.

3. We start reading instruction from scratch. That means that your first grader who is reading below grade level or your 9-year old, 4th grader who struggles with reading will start with the fundamentals of reading. We’ll teach your child the alphabetic principle in an order that builds from easy to complex, building confidence along the way.

Our goal is to get your child in and out as quick as possible, but it will take time.
If you’re ready to make a real change and invest in helping your first grader who struggles with reading or your struggling 12-year old, don’t wait. We help students of all ages learn to read.


Durwin, Cheryl C.; Moore, Dina; and Carroll, Deborah A., “Can Brief, Evidence-Based Measures Be Effective RTI Screens in Urban Schools? A Preliminary Study” (2017). 
NERA Conference Proceedings 2017.

Parker, D.C., Zaslofsky, A.F., Burns, M.K., Kanive, R., Hodgson, J., Scholin, S.E., & Klingbeil, D.A. (2015). A brief report of the diagnostic accuracy of oral reading fluency and reading inventory levels for reading failure risk among second- and third-grade students. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 31(1), 56-67.