Perspective: Defining High-Quality Reading Instruction

This letter was submitted to the North Carolina Board of Education and Dr. David Stegall, Deputy Superintendent of Innovation for NC Department of Public Instruction on June 1, 2020 in response to their recent changes to the definition of “high quality reading instruction.” 

Dear Members of the North Carolina Board of Education and Dr. Stegall,

As renowned special education researcher and professor Dr. William Cruickshank once stated, “A definition is relatively worthless unless it results in action.” While we commend the State Board of Education and NC Department of Public Instruction’s commitment to defining “high quality reading instruction,” we have grave concerns that the currently proposed definition would be worthless at best, and detrimental at worst. Its lack of clarity and substance will not lead to evidence-based action or support improvement in reading instruction in
our state.

As you know, the science of reading refers to the body of evidence accumulated over recent decades explaining how people learn to read. The evidence is voluminous and clear – we know how students learn to read, yet we continue to teach reading in ways that are not aligned with this knowledge. Why would the state of North Carolina adopt a definition that is so vague and open to interpretation, it allows this reality to continue?

While we recognize that no one individual should be responsible for defining high quality reading instruction for our state, we should all pay attention when Dr. Barbara Foorman, the expert so wisely hired to help facilitate and support this process, considers the proposed definition to be without substance and overly-simplified.

We ask that you heed the guidance of Dr. Foorman, and the decades of reading research that supports it, and include more precise language on how instruction should be delivered and greater specificity around the skills that must be taught. A definition of high quality reading instruction that does not include the words “explicit” and “systematic,” or name the domains of reading we know students must master to comprehend increasingly complex texts, is simply not a definition grounded in the science of reading. Nor is it one that will align or support teachers, administrators, professional development providers, educator preparation programs, curriculum providers, and parents. Most critically, it is not one that will lead to the highest quality reading instruction that all North Carolina students deserve.

We urge you to act now to align B-12 stakeholders in our state around a genuinely science-based definition of high-quality reading instruction, and we stand ready to support your efforts in any way we can.


Beth Anderson
Executive Director
Hill Learning Center

Kris Cox
Executive Director
Read WS
Winston Salem, NC

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