Why the “Wait to Fail Approach” in NZ?

It is a well-known fact (but not well received) that taking a ‘wait to fail’ approach in terms of Literacy is well practiced in New Zealand. Does this lead to Success or Failure? The writing is on the wall from day one and we need to consider what we are doing about this for the students who walk through your doors every day. 

A diagnosis of dyslexia in school is primarily based upon a “wait-to-fail-approach.” This approach requires a child to demonstrate a significant struggle to learn to read over a prolonged period of time before more intensive (quality and quantity) interventional strategies are discussed and eventually put into place. Paradoxically, although a diagnosis of dyslexia usually is not given before the end of second grade or the beginning of third grade (after the requisite period of failing), intensive interventions are most effective in kindergarten or first grade. (Wanzek & Vaughn, 2007).

This is not solely about the fact that waiting for a diagnosis of dyslexia at 7 years of age is too late. More so how do we ensure literacy success is the case for all students? Research shows that students enter NZ schools with large individual differences in their reading-related skills and knowledge. Students who enter school with well developed emergent literacy skills, such as alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness and oral language, tend to learn to read at a faster rate and are better readers than those who enter school with lower levels of these reading-related skills. If these disparities are not addressed early on through appropriate intervention, they have been shown to persist throughout their schooling.

The newly developed Learning Matters Literacy Start-Up Assessment tool has been created to gather information at school entrance on areas that have been shown to be critical for a child’s progress in their early literacy learning. The information gathered from the Learning Matters School Start-Up will allow schools/teachers to best meet the specific learning needs of their students by differentiating instructional emphases depending on emergent literacy skills on entrance to school. Studies show students with poor reading-related skills benefit from a teacher driven, code-based approach, whereas the children with well developed early literacy skills may benefit from a more meaning-based approach.

Enter the Learning Matters Literacy Success Start-Up Assessment. This new literacy assessment tool will go to trial in selected schools across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty region this week. We look forward to working with these evidenced-based practitioners to assist them in; gathering their data, developing some baseline school entry norms, and in assisting them to develop explicit research and evidenced-based teaching programmes (relevant to their context) once the data has been gathered.

Early identification of literacy difficulties is crucial. Thanks for considering how you are doing this. We are on your team as Kid President would say… “We can make every day better for each other, we were made to be awesome.”

Contact Carla to find out more.

Carla McNeil

Carla is the Founder and Director of Learning MATTERS Ltd. Carla has been a successful school Principal, Mathematics Advisor and Classroom teacher.


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