According to Grigg, Daane, Jin, and Campbell (2003), more than 8 million middle and high school students are struggling readers, and among those, many are at a high risk of dropping out of school. A longitudinal study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (2009) revealed schools with a higher percentage of minority students had a higher dropout rate, which increased as the school poverty level increased. Hispanic students and Black students had the highest dropout rates (11% and 10%, respectively) of all racial groups. According to a local public high school’s AYP report (Florida Department of Education, 2010b), 320 of 743 Hispanic students were on track to graduate. The 2010 AYP results revealed that 38 of 107 Black students were on track for graduation.
In accordance with the Florida Legislature (2010), students aged 3-21 who have a disability and gifted students in grades K-12 are eligible for exceptional student services (ESE). Thus, an exceptional student is any student determined eligible for a special program in accordance with the Florida Legislature (2010). A national survey of teachers in public schools conducted by the USDOE National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; 2001, as cited in Lovett et al., 2008) found only 32% of teachers whose classes includes students with reading disabilities felt well prepared to address students’ academic needs. In a local school district, results of the state-mandated criterion-referenced test (2009) showed that 73% of high school students identified with disabilities were reading below grade level. Ten percent of 10th-grade students with a disability left school, compared to 5% of those reported as having no disability (USDOE, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2009). Students with exceptionalities unable to meet the appropriate special state minimum requirements receive a special certificate of completion (Florida Legislature, 2010).
Traditionally, English language learners are underserved by the public school system (Morahan & Loftus, 2003). Today, more than 10% of teachers’ classes with a majority of ELLs are not prepared to meet language needs, according to a report from the USDOE (2000). According to the USDOE (2009), the ELL population is required to achieve AYP goals. A local public high school’s 2009-2010 AYP report (2010) revealed that 171 of 207 ELL students read below grade-level proficiency.
Collins (1996) indicated that secondary teachers are responsible to help low achieving or low performing students break the cycle of failure. Despite teachers who work hard to develop students’ reading, Fisher et al. (2009) suggested secondary schools are not places in which students achieve. Research acknowledges the existence of various obstacles affecting secondary learner’s ability to achieve reading proficiency. Primarily, limited research exists on effective implementation of reading interventions designed to assist secondary learners (Archer et al., 2003; Buck & Torgesen, 2002; Just Read Florida, 2001; National Reading Panel, 2000; Rasinski, 2005; Wexler, Vaughn, Edmonds, & Reutebach, 2008). A student with language or learning disabilities lack the personal confidence to succeed in an academic setting (Lovett et al., 2008) often times resulting in elevated high school dropout rates (Florida Department of Education, 2010b) and an ongoing cycle of poverty (U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). Despite the obvious barriers to delivering basic reading instruction in secondary schools, Sternberg et al. (2007) indicated it is possible for adolescents to become proficient readers.