Foundational Research

Special Report: Unlock Success for Below Proficient Readers

Full Report
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The Challenge

Millions of middle and high school students struggle to read at grade level, and at least 70% of these students require some form of remediation. Of all the issues in public education today, none is more complicated or critical to post-secondary success than literacy. A vast number of students in classrooms today require additional instructional support to function successfully in their core content studies. It is an ongoing problem that continues to perplex educators across the country.

There is a misguided perception that once students “learn to read” in elementary school they will be fully prepared for success in middle and high school classrooms and beyond. However, learning to read is only the initial step. Adolescent students must apply “reading to learn” strategies as they strive to make sense of increasingly complex concepts.

The Opportunity

“Reading to learn”—the expectation of secondary school students—demands higher levels of support to ensure that students are fully prepared for 21st century pursuits. Providing support that unlocks success for below proficient readers can improve overall student performance.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment measures reading comprehension and presents a broad view of student reading knowledge, skills, and performance over time.

The most recent NAEP results2 highlight the low percentage of students scoring at or above the proficient level on literacy tasks and confirms the extent of the proficiency problem across the country. And while these scores indicate a serious problem among all students, the statistics are even more alarming for low income students and students of color.

Four Strategies Middle and High School Curriculum Need to Address to Unlock Success for Struggling Adolescent Readers

  1. Identify Individual Needs. Schools must provide instructional safety nets for students who have fallen behind in meeting proficiency standards. To do so, they must know what each student needs.
  2. Appropriate Intervention Tools and Scaffolded Support. The implementation of evidence-based strategies can improve students’ ability to read and understand complex, grade-level texts.
  3. Student Motivation and Engagement. Motivation is critical for struggling students to reach grade level. To be motivated to complete any task, they need to believe they can do it.
  4. Instructional Coherence. Avoid “curriculum chaos” and leverage technology to create a coherent instructional strategy.


These evidence-based practices outline a path to help below proficient readers find success in grade-level instruction.

Of all the school-related factors impacting student performance, evidence-based instructional materials matter most. Yet educators all too often struggle with finding the time and resources to utilize the formative assessment information and support tools necessary to provide each student with the scaffolding and support needed for students to succeed and thrive instructionally.

Digital curriculum can be transformational. By paying attention to the tangible and intangible roots of evidence-based practice, educators can effectively utilize digital curriculum to place more below proficient readers on a trajectory for academic success.