Latest research confirms the importance of early screening and intervention. 

Profiles identified through screening,
as early as 5 years of age, are a very reliable
predictor of long-term reading difficulties. 

Recently, a group of researchers from Tufts, MIT and Harvard Universities, investigated the literacy profiles of children as they were learning to read (Ozernov-Palchik, 2017). They studied a group of 1200 children over a two year period, from all different income levels and across 20 different schools, with some definitive results.

Children screened as ‘at-risk’ at 5 years failed to meet literacy benchmarks two years later despite being taught with a Tier 1 classroom phonics program. Findings confirm that a 'wait and see' approach is detrimental for at-risk readers. Targeted intervention is vital if we are to reduce the long term implications of poor reading, including ongoing socioemotional difficulties, in our most vulnerable children. 

The six profiles of beginner readers

The READ Study identified six distinct reading profiles. Children within four of these profiles (up to 50% of an 'average' Prep class) required some level of intervention targeting their specific weaknesses. This data is more easily understood if we represent the research findings as children in an ‘average’ Prep classroom. 

Children at risk of Dyslexia 

High Average and Average children equated to 50% of the class. These children progressed well over the two years with Tier 1 classroom phonics instruction.

Children with the remaining four profiles showed a range of specific weaknesses that required more targeted intervention.

  • Low Average group (21%): struggled with poor letter-sound knowledge, poor phonological awareness and weak oral language. 
  • Phonics (PA) group (6%): had poor phonological awareness plus poor working memory and weak automatic recall.   
  • Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) group (11%): had very poor automatic recall. These children have trouble accessing what they know, so while they often read early, an inability to access knowledge makes it difficult for them to gain reading fluency
  • Double Deficit group (12%): had multiple processing difficulties including very poor letter-sound knowledge, poor phonological awareness, poor automatic recall and weak working memory. These children are our most ‘at-risk’ readers. 

The study recommendations

The findings of the study resulted in two very clear recommendations - screen early and intervene as soon as possible. A website titled has been developed by the team behind the research and a screening app is in development. 

#1: Screen early

Early screening (mid Prep) will identify the reading profiles of all students and enable at-risk readers to be flagged immediately.

Screening should include:

  • phonological awareness,
  • letter sound knowledge,
  • rapid automatic naming,
  • vocabulary
  • family history

Listening comprehension should also be screened if there are concerns about spoken language abilities.

Suitable screening tools are available within most learning support divisions. Should you require assistance regarding which screening tools to purchase and/or use from your available supply feel free to contact us - we'd be happy to help.

#2: Intervene early

A ‘wait and see’ approach is detrimental for at-risk readers. The outcomes of reading interventions for children when commenced in Year 2 and Year 3 rarely allow children to catch up with their peers (Blachman et al, 2004)

Profiles identified through screening, as early as 5 years of age, are a very reliable predictor of long-term reading difficulties. 

Intervention should commence early and target the identified weaknesses of each child. Given the range of processing difficulties within the at-risk profiles, intervention needs to target more than just phonics. In particular, children with RAN and Double Deficit profiles need very specific strategies for successful literacy outcomes.


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