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1st Grade Reading Success Is Critical — See How One School Is Helping Kids Succeed  

1st Graders Reading

The research on what happens if 1st graders haven’t reached a 1st grade reading level by the end of the school year has made one thing perfectly clear — struggling readers cannot wait for help. Reading intervention should begin in the primary grades, and it must be evidence-based.

But what does that look like? What solutions are school districts using to ensure their 1st graders are getting the help they need, when they need it, and how they need it? And why does the research say literacy intervention in the primary grades matters so much?

We’ve compiled the research to answer those questions, along with a look at how one Massachusetts school district has prioritized just-in-time intervention for their struggling 1st grade readers — with incredible results.

Why Does 1st Grade Reading Matter So Much?

First grade is the crucial school year that can determine what kind of reader a child will be … for the rest of their lives. 

This is not hyperbole. Studies tell us that when 1st graders don’t develop critical foundational skills, they won’t have the knowledge they’ll need to become successful decoders and therefore won’t have the skills to comprehend the text they read, setting off a domino effect that will extend far beyond the primary grades.

First graders need to master phonological awareness, phonics, fluency and high frequency words to be fluent, on-level readers by the end of the year. Without that strong foundation by the end of 1st grade, students are ill-prepared for grade 2, when reading instruction is all about applying this knowledge to read more complex words — and thus more complex text.

Consider the stakes:

  • One in six kids who are not reading proficiently in the 3rd grade will either drop out or not graduate from high school on time (a rate four times greater than that of proficient readers).
  • If a student is not reading on grade level by the end of their 1st grade year, there’s a 90 percent chance they’ll still be a struggling reader in 4th grade.

There is good news to be had when 1st grade students get the foundational skills instruction they need. The research shows that almost all (94 percent) of 1st graders who are on benchmark for phonics are on track to be on benchmark for all reading skills in 3rd grade.  

One School District’s Solution

Clearly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our 1st graders, so how do we ensure every child has the skills they need by the end of 1st grade to set them up for success?  

One school has doubled the number of 1st graders reading on grade level and in merely three months achieved a 69% decrease in the number of students requiring intensive support. 

Take a look at how Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts is closing reading gaps by leveraging Ignite Reading as a just-in-time intervention for 1st graders.

A Reading Intervention Pilot

In spring of 2023, educators in Revere, Massachusetts saw a problem at two of the elementary schools in Revere Public Schools (RPS) — 42% of the 1st graders had reading skill gaps that placed them at kindergarten reading levels.

These 1st graders were on a path to start 2nd grade still working on skills like learning letter names and sounds — or reading basic words like bat and sit — when they should have been entering 2nd grade reading full paragraphs of simple text.

RPS partnered with Ignite Reading to kick off a pilot program for a total of 50 students to receive daily intervention in the form of one-on-one daily virtual tutoring by Ignite Reading’s expert tutors.

Individualized Instruction

Assessments by Ignite Reading tutors revealed nearly half of the RPS 1st graders were at kindergarten-level foundational skills.

To help students close their reading gaps, Ignite Reading paired each child with a virtual tutor highly trained in providing explicit, direct instruction of foundational reading skills. Instruction was differentiated to meet the unique needs of each student and delivered one-to-one daily during the school day.

A photo of a child engaged in a reading tutoring session appears above that reads Expert Reading Instruction From Tutors Kids Love. We ensure every Ignite Reading tutor is a highly skilled and consistently effective instructor through our rigorous training program. Learn more.

During the pilot period, students got an average of eight hours of one-on-one individualized instruction and made over three weeks of progress in reading skills for every week in the Ignite Reading program.

Expanding the Partnership

Fresh off the success of the pilot program, Revere Public Schools expanded its partnership with  Ignite Reading for the 2023-24 school year. RPS students across six elementary schools now receive daily one-on-one foundational skills tutoring.

At Revere’s A.C. Whelan Elementary School, Literacy Coach Stefanie Porrazzo has seen a remarkable change in her students since the district decided to support each at-risk 1st grader with an Ignite Reading tutor for daily intervention in addition to their classroom Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction. 

The ‘23-’24 school year began with 33% of A.C. Whelan 1st graders reading at grade level. Three months into the program, 64% of 1st graders were reading at grade level. 

“You see it in the classrooms, and you see it in the kids’ faces, and you see it when they come to the library. They want to read books, and they want to show you how they’re doing.”

— Stefanie Porrazzo, literacy coach, Revere Public Schools, Revere, Massachusetts.

After three months with Ignite Reading:

  • DIBELS assessments showed averages of between eight months and 18 1/2 months of growth (yes, you read that correctly … 18.5 months!).
  • The number of 1st graders at A.C. Whelan who were in need of intensive support (meaning they were well below grade level at the beginning of 1st grade) decreased by 69% — from 63.5% to 19.8%. 

“We’ve just had such a positive response,” Porrazzo said. “This is our neediest grade in the school, and we’re closing those gaps and they’re becoming some of our most successful readers.”

About Ignite Reading 

Ignite Reading is on a mission to ensure every child learns how to read. We provide schools and school districts with one-to-one virtual tutoring that teaches K-8th graders the foundational skills they need to become confident, independent readers. We pair developing readers with expert reading tutors who provide daily, 15-minute, Science of Reading-based instruction that rapidly closes decoding gaps. Students across all demographics achieve the same outstanding results–an average of 2.4 weeks of reading skills growth per week of instruction–including students with IEPs, multilingual learners, students of color and those receiving free or reduced-price lunch. By ensuring all students master the foundational skills to fluently read any word, Ignite Reading empowers them to move forward and unlock everything school and life have to offer.