Science of Reading: what you need to know now

Delve into the theory of the Science of Reading, available funding initiatives, and technology available, that is helping to shape literacy education today. Discover the transformative potential of evidence-based reading instruction.

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What is the science of reading?

While the phrase doesn’t have a universal definition, it refers broadly to research in a variety of fields that relates to how a child’s brain learns to read. Neuroscientists, for instance, have used MRIs to study the brains of struggling readers

In practice, this science calls for schools to focus on the building blocks of words. Kindergartners might play rhyming games and clap out the individual syllables in a word to learn to manipulate sounds. Experts call this phonemic awareness.

Students later will learn explicitly how to make letter sounds and blend letters. To make sure students aren’t just guessing at words, teachers might ask them to sound out so-called nonsense words, like “nant” or “zim.”

Gone is rote memorization of word spellings. Instead, students learn the elements that make up a word. In a lesson using the word “unhappy,” students would learn how the prefix “un-” changed the meaning of the base word.

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Inclusive literacy instruction that reaches more learners

Improving student literacy in your classroom, school, or district is a win. But the impact goes beyond just education. Literacy betters our economies, literacy grows our communities, and literacy changes lives.

In this guide, we’ll break down the Science of Reading: what it is, what it isn’t, and how to apply it in your school, district, or classroom.

How does the science of reading help us make sense of reading?

An important model in early reading research is the simple view of reading. It says that reading comprehension (RC) is the product of decoding (D) and language comprehension (LC), or RC = D x LC.

Learning to read for understanding requires sounding out and recognizing words—decoding—but it also requires making meaning of the words and sentences we hear—language comprehension. While taking a microscope to any one aspect of reading reveals more complexity, the simple view continues to be supported as a strong core model in reading development, as it has been for decades. Another way to look at this is through the lens of the Scarborough Reading Rope. This visualization demonstrates the many strands and skills woven into the skill of reading.

5 pillars of reading

The Science of Reading also leans heavily on the five pillars of reading. These pillars are the key elements which need to be established in the learning journey for students to have the highest chance of reading success.

We have a short infographic to help you learn more about the five pillars of reading. While you’re there, check out our great resources too.

Here's another way to look at the five pillars of reading

Phonemic Awareness

Ability is manipulate individual phonemes within spoken words.

A Phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word


Ability to understand relationships between phonemes and graphemes.

Graphemes are letters that represent sounds in written language


Ability to read words aloud with accuracy, speed, and expression.

Core skillset to developing reading automatically and motivation to read


Ability to build a growing and increasingly complex lexicon.

Learned incidentally through exposure to reading and direct instruction


Ability to understand, remember, and synthesize what is read.

Unlocks critical thinking skills used to make predictions, inferences, and analyses of written materials.

Why is the Science of Reading so important?

For a significant portion of children, explicit instruction aligned with its principles is essential for developing proficient reading abilities.

Yet, despite mounting evidence supporting its efficacy, some educational settings have been slow to embrace it. This is creating an increasingly large gap between research and practice.

30 percent to 40 percent of kids

will need the more explicit instruction that is part of the science of reading, said Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Technology to support the science of reading

Every student learns differently. And every student will engage with reading in a different way, and at a different pace.

Introducing technology can transform the way students learn to read, and engage with reading. It can offer exciting possibilities beyond the printed page. Digital tools support the Science of Reading by providing personalized support and catering to diverse learning styles.

You can learn about the 5 ways that technology supports Science of Reading initiatives in this blog.

Texthelp tools to support Science of Reading initiatives

For struggling readers, Read&Write provides digital reading support, using text-to-speech, dyslexia-friendly dictionaries, and grammar checkers to build fluency and confidence.

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OrbitNote helps educators to make inaccessible text more accessible and collaborative. Teachers can easily convert printed text into a PDF, ensuring that students have access to the tools they need, across all class content.

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uPar uses artificial intelligence to identify students who are reading below grade level through an automated online process—showing their path to understand text through listening (”ear” reading) compared to traditional “eye” reading.

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Use the tabs below to discover how Texthelp tools can support your science of reading initiatives.

Word recognition

  • Daily literacy supports
  • Monitor progress
  • Read&Write’s Text to Speech feature models fluent reading
  • Speak As I Type in Read&Write helps learners gain phonemic awareness
  • Read&Write’s Audio Maker makes it easy to create auditory phonemic level practice
  • Word Prediction in Read&Write and Co-Writer includes phonetic spelling support
  • Read&Write’s Vocabulary List allows you to create universally designed sight word lists
  • Use the Simplify Page feature with Discovery mode for on-the-spot connected text in Read&Write
  • Dictionaries and picture dictionaries in Read&Write help with word recognition and pronunciation
  • Practice Reading Aloud in Read&Write allows students to practice their reading skills.

Language comprehension

  • Daily literacy supports
  • Monitoring progress
  • Read&Write’s Text to Speech allows learners to access grade level content and above grade level content
  • Use the Collect Highlights feature in Read&Write to curate a text set; Customize to include background knowledge
  • Use the Simplify Page with Discovery mode in Read&Write to build background knowledge
  • Snap&Read’s Outline Tool collects annotations from multiple resources to serve as reference points for formulating text-dependent questions and structuring students’ responses
  • Read&Write’s Word Prediction prompts students to use appropriate and contextually relevant words, reinforcing their understanding of syntax and grammar.

Which states have passed Science of reading laws?

Legislation has also begun to reflect this shift, with every state now having passed some form of legislation acknowledging the importance of the science of reading.

States like Mississippi have led the way with comprehensive curriculum overhauls and teacher training initiatives, yielding promising results in reading proficiency.

Some Colorado districts, for instance, have ditched instructional materials that didn’t pass muster under a state law that requires schools to use scientifically based reading programs. Texthelp customer, New York City Schools, whose mayor often talks about his personal struggle with dyslexia, is making changes in its schools as well, without waiting for state laws to be passed.

You can learn more about which states have passed Science of Reading laws from Education Week’s article.

Funding initiatives to support literacy development

Many states are currently building Science of Reading funding into their budget. For example, $20M in Indiana, $90M in Minneapolis, $86M in Ohio, and $150M in Oregon. Other school districts like New York City Schools are going it alone and allocating funding specifically to science of reading and related programs. If your state hasn’t yet allocated specific funding, there are other funding sources you can explore.

ESSER funding

On March 27, 2020, Congress set aside approximately $13.2 billion of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Fund. The Department awarded these grants to State educational agencies (SEAs) for the purpose of providing local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation.

ESSER III funds expire on September 30, 2024 (ESSER II funds expired in September 2023). That means 2023/24 is the last school year in which this specific funding program will be available for K-12 education. It’s important that nothing is left on the table in terms of funds available, so many school districts are looking to their ESSER funding to advance reading programs.

A recent McKinsey report estimates that $90 billion in funds remains unspent, and districts have yet to budget about a third of those funds. Which means that, in order to use up the remaining dollars, districts will need to spend or obligate roughly $5 billion a month between July 2023 and September 2024.