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REL Pacific

Literacy in the Pacific: What We Know, What We Need to Know

REL Pacific
Erin D'Amelio
October 8, 2018

It goes without saying that literacy—that is, the ability to read and write—is a crucial skill for young children to learn for their future academic and career success. Thanks to decades of research on the topic, we generally know what components to teach and how to effectively teach them.1, 2 We also know that not reading at grade level can have severe consequences for students, including reduced graduation and college attendance rates, underdeveloped social emotional competencies, and lower incomes later in life.3

Despite the evidence, we have not yet reached consensus on all of literacy's various components. First, while we know that teachers can use different models of instruction to teach skills like phonological awareness and comprehension across the early grades, there is less certainty on what the correct balance of methods looks like in a classroom of diverse learners. Additional questions arise when you add languages to the mix. What methods, for example, are best in teaching reading in a multilingual classroom? (Thankfully the evidence-based research for these topics have been growing. 4, 5) The definition of literacy itself is subject to several debates, one of them being the influence of digital technology on meaning-making. Is the ability to read and write text enough? For instance, international organizations such as UNESCO now term literacy as “a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.” 6

But rather than get into a discussion of definitions, let's turn instead to how literacy looks in the Pacific. Focusing on early reading is a priority in our REL Partnerships, where many grade 3 students are not reading proficiently. The CNMI's ACT Aspire Reading results from 2016, for example, show that 85% of grade three students fall into the “close” (65%) or “need support” (20%) proficiency levels, while 11% fell into “ready” and 4% fell into “exceeding” proficiency levels.7 In American Samoa (AS), 77% of 3rd graders were not proficient in reading on their 2012–2013 SAT-10.8

chart depicting areas of best practices in literacy instruction

Schematic depicting high-quality best practices in literacy instruction.

Though questions remain in literacy research and pedagogy both within the Pacific and beyond, our team at REL Pacific remains committed to working on evidence-based practices with our partners to ensure that more students are reading proficiently and achieving academic and career success.

Our Early Reading Partnerships are committed to using research results, data, and best practices to guide policy and practice to influence reading outcomes, particularly in multilingual cultures. Together, we're looking forward to better understanding what support is essential in early reading development in K–3 students so that they are able to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” by the end of third grade.

If you have any questions, would like information about our evidence-based resources, or if you would like to know more about the work being done with our Partnerships (or are interested in joining an existing Partnership or developing a new one), please feel free to contact us at We'd love to hear from you!


1Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., Furgeson, J., Hayes, L., Henke, J., Justice, L., Keating, B., Lewis, W., Sattar, S., Streke, A., Wagner, R., & Wissel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016–4008). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website:

2National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00–4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

3Fiester, L. (2010). EARLY WARNING! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

4Kim, Y.-S. G., Boyle, H. N., Zuilkowski, S. S., & Nakamura, P. (2016). Landscape Report on Early Grade Literacy. Washington, D.C.: USAID

5Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Kieffer, M. J., Linan-Thompson, S., & Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014–4012). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website:

6UNESCO. (n.d.). “Literacy.” Retrieved from

7CNMI Public School System. (2017). Student Academic Achievement Report: School Year 2015–2016. Retrieved at

8American Samoa Department of Education (2016). Longitudinal data system: Snapshots. Retrieved from .

9Adapted from Risko, V.J., & Walker-Dalhouse, D. (2015). Best Practices to Change the Trajectory of Struggling Readers. In Gambrell, L.B., & Mandel Morrow, L. (Eds), Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, Fifth Edition. New York, NY: Guilford Publications; and Allington, R.L. (2002). What I've Learned About Effective Reading Instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740–747.