Comprehension strategies are necessary for students to succeed with increasingly challenging texts and related reading tasks
That current reading comprehension strategy instruction is not helping all students develop into accomplished readers is a near inference we can make from reading achievement performance on national and international assessments, including the NAEP (2017) and the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). We possess considerable knowledge about reading comprehension strategies and comprehension development, but this knowledge is not consistently translated into reading comprehension instruction that boosts students’ reading performance. NAEP Reading scores in grades 4, 8 and 12, as well as NAEP scores in content areas that require substantial student reading, do not describe a nation of consistently comprehending readers. Consider that 4th and 8th-grade students’ reading comprehension performances on NAEP in 2017 (with both grades mean reading achievement scores situated between “basic” and “proficient” levels) were not measurably different from the 2015 scores. Students’ performance on NAEP tests in content domains that require considerable amounts of reading is unsettling:
[o]nly 17% of eighth graders demonstrated proficiency in the area of United States History according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.
(Retrieved from www.nationsreportcard.gov/)
In both reading and content domains that demand significant amounts of student reading, NAEP scores are at best stagnant. Substantial numbers of students struggle to achieve basic levels of reading comprehension, and fewer still reach proficient or advanced levels.
While test results indicate flat or declining reading achievement, many students face increased reading comprehension demands in school. The Common Core State Standards and other standards-based initiatives are intended to influence what students do and learn in classrooms. The Standards reflect a conceptualization of reading in common with the NAEP Reading Framework (National Assessment Governing Board, 2017). Namely, they share the idea that reading involves reader, text, activity and context, and the expectation that readers will use that which they comprehend in related tasks. In both the current NAEP Reading Framework and the Common Core State Standards, comprehension is the salient outcome of reading. However, the evolution of our conceptualization of reading is reflected in the fact that comprehension is no longer considered an end in itself, but rather a requisite component of larger acts of literacy. This places new and often complex demands on students’ strategy use.
Consider the following Common Core State English/Language Arts Standard for informational reading, and the reading strategies that are implied for students’ success:
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
(Retrieved from www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/6/)
A task analysis of the above grade 6 Common Core State Standard indicates the assumption of strategy use that allows students to construct literal and inferential understanding of text—the situational model of text (Kintsch, 1998). However, comprehension is but a prerequisite for further strategic reading performance on the standard. In this case, readers’ strategic behavior requires the higher order thinking of identifying claims made in the text, and evaluating claims to determine if they have sufficient evidence to warrant them (Afflerbach, Cho, & Kim, 2015). The implications for reading comprehension strategy instruction are considerable—more, and more complex strategies are needed for student success in reading.
In summary, as our conceptualizations of reading evolve, so too should our ideas related to teaching reading strategies. A prominent example of this evolution is evident in the current definition of reading that anchors the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2017). According to this contemporary view of reading, readers construct meaning and then use this constructed meaning to perform tasks that involve complex reasoning and problem solving. This idea is woven into contemporary standards initiatives, including the Common Core State Standards. A resulting need is development of students’ comprehension strategies to both construct meaning and use that meaning in a reading-related task.