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Reading red flags: What parents need to know

It isn’t always easy for parents to know how their child’s school is teaching reading.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

It isn’t always easy for parents to know how their child’s school is teaching reading. If you have questions or concerns, bring them to your child’s classroom teacher, literacy specialist, or principal. Here are some questions that can help guide the conversation, based in part on information from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

How are students taught to read words they don’t know?

Green flag: Your child is taught to look at the word carefully, breaking its letters apart into different sounds based on the phonics rules they’ve learned, then blending the sounds back together.

Red flag: Your child is taught that using phonics is just one of many ways to read an unfamiliar word. Your child often tries to guess a word by sounding out its first letter, or by looking at a book’s illustrations.


Will my child get to read grade-level text every day?

Green flag: Your child learns about new topics through read-alouds with a teacher or a partner, or by reading independently. They are taught new and rigorous vocabulary words and discuss ideas in class to build knowledge.

Red flag: Your child picks out their own “just right” book to read during class. The book is based on their skill level and is not necessarily a grade-level text. Your child spends a significant portion of class reading independently and practicing comprehension skills using only “just right” texts.

How are students put into small groups for reading practice?

Green flag: Your child’s teacher regularly collects data about students’ reading skills and uses that data to create small reading groups. Your child’s groups change often and are based on specific skills for which they need extra practice.

Red flag: Your child is assigned a color or a level on an A-Z scale, and is placed into a “guided reading” group with other children at the same level. Your child’s group does not change.

Does the phonics instruction follow a clear, step-by-step progression?

Green flag: Your child’s teacher uses a clearly laid-out plan to teach phonics, or the correspondence between letters and sounds. Lessons take place every day and are brief, engaging, and active.


Red flag: Your child’s teacher does not teach phonics systematically, often only covering phonics rules haphazardly, such as when they trouble students in texts they’re reading.

How do I know how my child is doing?

Green flag: Your child’s school provides you with reading assessment data at least once a year, with details about different reading skills. The school helps you understand which skills you should be working on with your child at home.

Red flag: Your child’s school only provides report card grades and vague comments. Their teacher says, “Don’t worry, your child is a late bloomer,” or “Don’t stress, your child will catch up.”

If you have concerns about your child, you can request that the school conduct tests for possible disabilities.

What are some additional resources for parents?

National Center on Improving Literacy

The Regional Educational Laboratory Program

PACER Center

PBS for Parents

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Adria Watson can be reached at Follow her @adriarwatson. Mandy McLaren can be reached at Follow her @mandy_mclaren.