Why is foundational literacy important?

Strong foundational skills are the building blocks for a successful future, in school and in life. But each year more than one million fourth grade students in the U.S. are added to the list of those who struggle with reading. Mastering foundational literacy skills, including phonics, is critical to developing successful readers.

What experts say

Up to 80% of students who struggle with reading have deficits in phonological skills including phonics.


Moats, L, & Tolman, C (2019). Excerpted from Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), 3rd Edition. Dallas: Voyager Sopris Learning, Inc.​​

88% of students who fail to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in 3rd grade.


Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2019

What does the Science of Reading tell us about foundational literacy?

Research on the Science of Reading shows that foundational skills—especially phonics, or decoding, skills (the ability to connect sounds to letters)—are absolutely essential for reading proficiency. As a result, many states have passed laws or implemented new policies related to the Science of Reading to ensure that students master foundational literacy skills.

How to support foundational literacy

Educators need clear, accurate, and easily accessible data that identifies where students are located in their learning journey to help them progress. That’s why it’s beneficial to universally screen all students to determine who is at-risk of not becoming a proficient reader.

It is also beneficial to give a phonics skill screener to help teachers identify who needs help with phonics and which phonics patterns to teach. For students who are receiving additional instruction to learn phonics, a phonics diagnostic assessment helps teachers maximize each minute by specifically targeting the exact phonics skill students need to learn.

Teachers can then strengthen these phonics skills by targeting instruction to increase efficacy while saving time. These skills can be strengthened with exact alignment to adaptive and engaging lessons that provide repeated and varied practice in foundational literacy skills at just the right level of difficulty.

Foundational literacy tools from Renaissance

Renaissance helps districts improve their foundational program with assessment and skill-building practice aligned with the Science of Reading and emphasizing phonics, the domain where most students with reading difficulties struggle.

Only Renaissance offers Star Phonics, a technology-based assessment that screens and diagnoses target phonics skills and Lalilo, an adaptive and engaging foundational practice tool.

After using Star Phonics to determine where students need phonics instruction, easily connect the specific practice area with a Lalilo lesson via a complementary crosswalk.

Ready to see Renaissance’s Foundational Literacy solution for yourself?

Star Phonics

Only Renaissance offers Star Phonics, a technology-based assessment that screens and diagnoses 12 of the most critical phonics categories and 102 target skills.

  • Is a technology-based assessment
  • Is customizable to most phonics curriculums
  • Grades 1-6+
  • Screens 12 phonics categories
  • Diagnoses 102 target phonics skills
  • Provides immediate and actionable reports at student, class, grade, and district levels
  • 1:1 administration in 2-5 minutes
  • Aligns to Lalilo for targeted instructional support

Learn more about Star Phonics


Star Phonics aligns with Lalilo, an adaptive and engaging foundational practice tool, in 9 phonics categories and 87 phonics skills. Lalilo goes beyond Star Phonics alignment by providing 700+ targeted lessons across all foundational literacy skill domains.

  • Is a comprehensive foundational literacy adaptive practice tool
  • Aligns to state standards
  • Allows teachers to assign lessons, including assign lessons, including specific phonics skills covered in Star Phonics
  • Provides detailed, user-friendly reporting at the student, class, and school level
  • Complements any core curriculum
  • Is specifically designed to foster independence and engagement for young learners

Learn more about Lalilo

Star Phonics helps me drive my phonics lessons ensuring students are explicitly taught the skills they need to be successful. I also utilize Lalilo to target specific skills. The dashboard allows me to pinpoint where a specific group or my whole class needs additional support.

Jennifer Valdora, L.I.N.K.S. lead teacher, Special Education department Jersey City Public Schools, New Jersey

Target phonics skill instruction with Star Phonics and Lalilo

Frequently asked questions

What is phonics? Why is it important for students to master phonics to become proficient readers?

Phonics is the ability to connect sounds (i.e., phonemes), to letters (i.e., graphemes), to read words. It is the most efficient way to learn to read words, and research shows the main reason students struggle with reading is due to poor phonological deficits, including phonics.

Mastering phonics is necessary for students to be able to read words effortlessly. Students who master phonics can use their mental energy for other important reading skills like learning new vocabulary and comprehending what they read. On the other hand, students who struggle with reading individual words often run out of mental energy to do much else beyond the word level.

Isn’t the Science of Reading another fad in education?

No. The Science of Reading is not new; it encompasses decades of research across a large interdisciplinary body, that informs how proficient reading and writing develop. It addresses why some students struggle and the most efficient ways to assess and teach all students in order to ensure all students are successful readers.

What are phonics skill screeners?

Phonics skill screeners answer specific questions about which phonics categories or patterns students know and do not know. This information is used to inform phonics instruction at the district, building, grade, class, and student level. While universal screeners tell you “Who is at risk?”, a phonics skill screener tells you “What to teach.”

This information is critical to have for all students in the elementary grades, where phonics is a large focus of instruction. It is also helpful for older students who continue to need support learning phonics.

What is a phonics diagnostic assessment and how is it different from a phonics skill screener?

A phonics diagnostic assessment digs deeper into a phonics category or specific pattern to determine exactly where the student is struggling. For example, if the student is struggling with words like “hope” and “mate” that have a long vowel and a silent e at the end. It will save teachers time to know exactly which long vowel sounds, so that they do not waste time and teach them all but instead focus on exactly what the student needs.

A phonics diagnostic should only be used with those few students who are getting additional targeted instruction in phonics. It helps answer the question: “Which specific phonics skills does this student need to be taught”.

How many times during the school year should I assess my students’ phonics skills?

The phonics skill screener should be administered three times a year (beginning, middle, end of year) at the same time universal screening data is collected. The diagnostic phonics assessment should only be given when the teacher needs information on which specific phonics skills to teach to a particular student. The diagnostic can be given any time this information is needed to inform instruction.

How can I align phonics skills that need extra attention with actionable instruction?

Renaissance foundational literacy tools—aligned with the Science of Reading—connect phonics screening and diagnostic assessments with individualized practice and instruction solutions.

What is the best way for students to develop foundational literacy skills?

Foundational literacy skills need to be explicitly and systematically taught. This means students will not automatically pick up on reading skills from being exposed to book and text. They must be taught how to connect speech to print through explicit instruction, delivered in a systematic sequence, and accompanied by repeated and varied practice. During this practice, they need content at a rigorous, yet approachable level and immediate feedback to reinforce the skills being learned.

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