By Cassandra McCallum

The School of Education invites you to attend an Ed.D. dissertation defense by Kristin Gengler on “Contributing to a Higher Rate of Students at Risk for Reading Difficulties."

Date: April 4, 2023
Time: 8 a.m.
Location: This will be a virtual dissertation defense via Zoom. Those interested in attending should contact Robai_werunga@uml.edu to request access to the Zoom link.

Dissertation Chair: Robai Werunga, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Dissertation Committee:

  • Jack Schneider, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Deanne Galdston, Ed.D., Scholar in Practice, School of Education, Superintendent, Watertown Public Schools


Students who develop proficient reading skills are more likely to experience positive outcomes both in and beyond the school setting. If students start developing strong literacy skills at a young age, they are more likely to perform well in school and achieve academic success. Despite ongoing efforts to support students’ development of reading skills, there are high rates of students across the nation who read below proficiency standards. Moreover, students are most often referred for intensive and costly special education services due to difficulties with reading skill acquisition. This mixed methods study examined potential factors contributing to high rates of students in kindergarten through third grade who exhibit difficulties with reading skill acquisition in one rural elementary school. The working theory of improvement for this study posited that efforts aimed at enhancing organizational factors related to core instruction, assessment, and remedial reading services would lead to better reading outcomes for students. Data were collected from classroom teachers, reading specialists, and the principal using surveys, interviews, observations, and artifact examination. The findings of this study indicated that the high rate of students with reading difficulties in the early grades was due to conflicting philosophies on effective reading instruction, challenges with implementation of an evidence-based core reading curriculum, inconsistent assessment practices, and unstructured remedial support services for students with reading difficulties. This study concludes that the district should provide professional development on evidence-based approaches to effective reading instruction, ongoing opportunities for collaboration and consultation to support literacy instruction and assessment, and establishment of a response to intervention framework to support students’ development of reading skills.