According to the 2015 NAEP Report (the last year that twelfth graders were included), slightly over 1/3 of public school fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders read at a proficient level or above. The overwhelming majority of that 37% is at the proficient level. As most teachers know, “proficient” isn’t equivalent with grade level. The statistics for 2016 and 2017 for fourth and eighth graders has fluctuated back and forth by one percentage point. It seems melodramatic to state that our country is in a reading crisis, and certainly policy makers will not use such rhetoric. However, when only 37% of fourth and eighth graders in our nation’s public schools can read at a proficient level or above, there is definitely work we need to do to improve the situation.
I have a unique perspective on that situation, as I teach reading to underprepared college freshmen who sometimes come to college reading below an eighth grade level; and, on the other end of the spectrum, I teach Foundations of Research-Based Practice for Reading to those changing from other professional careers to education. As I prepare these future teachers, I see the challenges they face in the K-12 environment. Teaching reading today is a much more difficult task than someone on the outside would imagine. With insufficient funding for classrooms, the diverse language needs contained within today’s classrooms, the sometimes overcrowded classrooms, the need for differentiation for a wide range of abilities, the accountability reports, the legislative changes of state standards, and, finally, the concern over too much screen time for students, what is a reading teacher to do? It is a puzzling question. I have found a very important piece to that puzzle in ACE READER.
I have used ACE READER for close to a decade in my college reading courses, and I recommend it to my students enrolled in Foundations of Research-Based Practices in Reading, a required course in my college’s Educator Preparation Institute. I tell my teacher-in-training students that if they have funding for only one computerized reading program, ACE READER is the one that will have the biggest impact on their students. First, it is pedagogically sound and supports my instruction in my college-level developmental reading courses. That should be a given in a reading program, but often programs have a lot of distracting bling but very little sound instruction. Secondly, the program is neurologically sound. The eye/brain coordination drills that are vital for struggling readers have several benefits. Visual cortex stimulation, intense concentration, left-to-right tracking, and expanded peripheral vision are just a few of the advantages of these drills that “prime the pump” for reading. In addition, ACE READER promotes fluency, which profoundly impacts comprehension. The components of fluency – prosody, automaticity, speed – all advance comprehension. ACE READER facilitates automaticity and enhances speed. In this program, speed isn’t for speed’s sake; it is directly tied to comprehension assessment, which brings me to my next point.
The reports generated by ACE READER track and gather all of the information a teacher needs to plan instruction and to comply with accountability reports. The reports are easy to understand and to share with parents and students, as well. The reports also speak to the efficacy of the program. At my college, our cumulative reports show that 75% of students who have taken at least two assessment tests demonstrate an improved Effective Reading Rate score by an average of 80%. Finally, I’ve never had a better relationship with a vendor than I have had with ACE READER. I get very quick responses if I ever have an issue (which seldom happens) that I can’t resolve myself. Most important to me, though, is that I can call and speak to someone who clearly has concern for students and is able to speak with me as a colleague would about pedagogy. This company has generously met every need I’ve encountered for my reading students. My experience has truly been like no other online or software experience I’ve had over my thirty-four year teaching career.
 The Nation’s Report Card. (2017). Retrieved from (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_2017/#nation/achievement?grade=4)
About the Blogger: Elizabeth Smith is a member of the College Reading and Learning Association, the National Association of Developmental Education, the International Literacy Association, and the Florida Developmental Education Association, where she also serves on its Board.