K-12 | Read to Achieve


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The Tech Edvocate Names Learning Ally “Best Assistive Technology” Finalist for its Mobile Reading App
The Edvocate Awards 2018 logo

November 2, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

Finalist LogoLearning Ally today announced that the organization’s mobile reading app has been named a "Best Assistive Technology App or Tool" finalist for the 2018 Tech Edvocate Awards. The mobile reading app provides access to Learning Ally’s library of human-read audiobooks, with enhanced classroom tools for students.

Learning Ally is a leading edtech provider of a comprehensive audiobook solution offering an equitable reading experience for students in grades 3-12 with learning differences.

"We are thrilled to be a finalist for best assistive technology app," says Cynthia Hamburger, Learning Ally’s COO. "Our mobile app delivers a superior digital reading experience for today’s tech-savvy learners. Students have everything they need to complete reading assignments on time and on point. Students who once struggled to read can now demonstrate what they know."

Learning Ally's mobile app with new classroom tools focuses on student-centric learning with enriched capabilities. These include students’ ability to customize reading preferences, streamline reading assignments, and communicate directly with teachers to ask questions, send completed homework and receive feedback for personalized learning. With new reading enhancements such as bookmarking, notetaking and an in-app dictionary, students can build background knowledge, prepare book reports with citations, perform research, write summaries, and create large vocabulary lists.

Bridging the gap between students' reading skills and their cognitive ability to learn and comprehend grade-level content, Learning Ally's human-read audiobooks help boost academic gains and drive improved social-emotional outcomes for struggling learners. The mobile app gives students access to audiobooks and grade-level content at any time in a format they can easily absorb to be successful in their learning process.

The Tech Edvocate, published by Dr. Matthew Lynch, focuses on shifts in education policy to enhance learning opportunities for American P–20 students. Each year, a panel of edtech leaders, PreK–12 teachers, college professors, K–12 administrators, and K–12 parents, choose a top winner and finalist(s) in several categories to recognize companies, people and products that represent the "best in edtech."

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally, a leading nonprofit edtech organization, delivers a comprehensive and cost-effective learning solution for struggling readers in grades 3–12. The organization’s proven solution features an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read, with a suite of teacher-focused resources to ensure student success. 

In 2018, Learning Ally received a distinguished Library of Congress Literacy Award for its outstanding commitment and innovative research-based best practices to ensure literacy for all in U.S. schools.

To learn how your school or district can become a member of Learning Ally in support of struggling readers, schedule a Learning Ally demo or call 800-221-1098.


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The Library of Congress Literacy Honors Learning Ally for Best Practices Serving Children and Youth in U.S. Schools

November 2, 2018 by Mir Ali

Learning Ally, a leading ed-tech nonprofit reaching more than 375,000 students last year, is one of fifteen honorees receiving the 2018 Library of Congress Literacy Award. The annual award recognizes the outstanding achievements of organizations (national and international) whose innovative and research-based best practices serve to improve literacy worldwide.


Andrew Friedman, CEO of Learning Ally, said, “We are extremely proud of this prestigious recognition and want to congratulate all of the nominees who share a mission of universal literacy. Throughout our history, Learning Ally has worked tirelessly to ensure all students who struggle to read due to learning differences and vision impairments have the same opportunities to realize their full academic potential by providing them with an equitable reading solution.”

Learning Ally has more than 70 years’ experience creating reading accommodations to help struggling readers reach their full academic potential. The organization has an extensive library of high quality human-read audiobooks and a suite of educator tools and resources to ensure student success. Research shows the solution has a positive impact. In a 2018 survey, more than 85% of educators agreed Learning Ally solutions helped students take greater ownership of their learning, achieve academically, and better comprehend grade-level texts.

Today, Learning Ally is driven by a keen desire to provide equal opportunities to learn for all struggling readers so they can succeed academically, and in life. The organization maintains a strong focus on innovation to truly support students with learning differences in tech-enabled classrooms. To better serve each student and support them on a deeper level, Learning Ally has developed more customized launch plans, personalized student reading incentive programs, and real-time reports to monitor student progress. This iterative and inclusive approach to developing products and services ensures all students with learning differences have equitable access to grade level content, can work to their ability, keep pace with their peers, possess a strong belief in self, and have hope for their future.

For Learning Ally, accessibility for all struggling readers is more than an ideal, it’s a promise. The organization believes all students with learning differences can succeed in school and in life with the right support and timely accommodations.

Learn more about Learning Ally’s audiobook solutions for educators and students.

About The Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program

Since 2013, The Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program awarded $1.4 million to 66 institutions in 30 countries through the generous contributions of David M. Rubinstein. Administered by the Library’s Center for the Book, Congress created the program to stimulate public interest in books and reading, and to encourage development of innovative methods for promoting literacy through effective best practices. This year, a selection committee evaluated 59 nominations with top monetary prizes awarded to Reading Is Fundamental, Washington, DC, East Side Community School, New York City, and Instituto Pedagógico para Problemas del Lenguaje, Mexico City. http://www.read.gov/literacyawards

About Learning Ally

Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit ed-tech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success.

Learning Ally successfully partners with more than 15,000 U.S. schools, districts and leading state education systems across the country to empower over 375,000 students with improved comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and critical thinking skills. For over 70 years, the organization has helped to transform the lives of struggling readers by bridging the gap between their reading capability and their academic potential to become confident, lifelong learners who thrive in school and beyond.

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Understanding the "automaticity" of executing lower-level reading processes to master higher-level comprehension
Bridge Gap logo

November 2, 2018 by Mir Ali

Automaticity is necessary in everything we do to move to higher order thinking skills and perform tasks flawlessly.

When we first learn to drive a car, we expend our brainpower on technical skills such as speed, turn signals, and road signs. We use both hands on the wheel. It takes significant cognitive capacity to remember to look in the mirrors to change lanes. At this stage of our learning process, we have not mastered the “automaticity” of the skills needed to drive a car, but with practice and confidence, our lower level processing becomes automatic.

This is true in the classroom too. If we cannot easily perform lower-level reading processes such as phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding with “automaticity,” we will find it more difficult to free up our mental capacity to concentrate on the task. When our cognitive load becomes too intense to comprehend, there is enhanced likelihood that gaps in our learning process will exist – thus affecting reading achievement and feelings of failure. This scenario happens for many learners in lower socio-economic status, struggling readers and students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia.

Multi-Faceted Reading Definitions – ‘Reading for Meaning’

Research suggests that the act of reading is multi-faceted:

1) An explicit skill building activity necessary to access print.

2) An ability to comprehend text that comes from accurate word decoding.

While researchers debate the definition of finite reading skills such as fluency (Rasinski et al., 2011), there is a consensus that reading does involve understanding written text and constructing meaning from that text (Afflerbach et al., 2011).

What happens if teachers only pay attention to one reading definition? Let’s test this.

Reading Test

Read the following excerpt from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a popular series for ages 7-13, and with a Lexile level of 950:

Today is the first day of school, and right now we’re just waiting around for the teacher to hurry up and finish the seating chart. So I figured I might as well write in this book to pass the time. By the way, let me give you some good advice. On the first day of school, you got to be real careful where you sit. You walk into the classroom and just plunk your stuff down on any old desk and the next thing you know the teacher is saying – ‘I hope you all like where you’re sitting, because these are your permanent seats’ (Kinney, 2007).

If you mastered the skills of decoding and fluency, pulling words from the page by attaching sounds to letters and reading with correct rate, (automaticity and prosody,) then you are likely to make sense of the text. Your brain met the automaticity of the lower level processes. (Kendou, 2014).

Now, read the following excerpt from a medical journal about developmental dyslexia:

Two female subjects showed multiple instances of focal myelinated conical infraction, with neuronal loss, gliosis, and myelination of the scars affecting perisylvian and cerebral arterial border-zone territories. The presence of myelin in the scars suggested that the injury preceded the second or third year of postnatal life. One of the males showed, in addition to microdysgenesis, a small number of these myelinated scars. The brain of the twenty-year-old female had no scars in the cortex but did have a small number of ectopias distributed equally between the hemispheres. Other abnormalities included a bilobar hippocampal oligondendraglioma and a frontal arteriovenous anomaly in one female case; one male and another female case also showed arteriovenous anomalies and a male showed arthitectonic abnormalities in the lateralis posterior and medial geniculate nuclei of the thalamus” (Galaburda et al., 1985, p. 223)

Did you exhaust brainpower to decode all the technical words in this text? Did it slow you down? Did you try context clues or isolating root words and affixes to decipher the vocabulary? Did you feel less smart when you read the second passage as the first?

Cognitive Load Theory

This is an example of cognitive load theory, suggesting that our working memory can only handle two or three pieces of information at a time. The limitations of working memory overloads the finite skills of full comprehension. (Rueda, 2011 & Foorman et al., 2011).

Cunningham et al., (2011) stated, “…when word recognition is not yet automatized, the reader experiences significant cognitive demands while decoding text. As a reader matures, and the demands of conceptually more difficult texts require the use of complex thinking strategies, a reduction in conscious attention is necessary at the word recognition level to free up cognitive energy required for comprehension” (p. 260). 

In the time it took to read the first passage to the second, your intelligence did not change. What changed was your ability to decode content and understand what you read. In the second passage, our brainpower had to drive into overload to use our lower level processes.

Bridge the “Automaticity” Reading Gap - Fluency

Reading fluency helps to reduce the cognitive demand and thus makes text comprehension easier for the reader” (Rueda, 2011).

Dr. Maryanne Wolf (2008), in her book Proust and the Squid, builds a visual story of what reading is about by uncovering the precepts of reading as defined by Marcel Proust, “Proust saw reading as a kind of intellectual sanctuary, where human beings have access to thousands of realities they might never encounter or understand otherwise” (p. 6).

For struggling readers and those with learning disabilities, we need to help them find a bridge to content, while being taught the lower level processes of reading. Many educators use an evidence-based structured literacy program, but this approach takes time, maybe one or two years. Just as any young child can comprehend above their ability to read, so can a student that is struggling to read. They require a tool to help them automatize the decoding process and to provide reinforcement of skill building in the lower level processes of reading. Access to human-read audiobooks can serve as a reliable tool to keep both processes going simultaneously -- comprehension and cognition.

Holistic Reading Approach

If we only allow students to rely on the explicit skills taught, their ability to catch up to grade level will be farther out of reach. As a community of researchers and education professionals, consider three questions:

(1) Are the cognitive capacities and abilities of students, not just learning disabled students, on par with grade level content when the lower level processes of reading are not automatized?

(2) What are the tools and resources that teachers use to create a holistic environment and culture of reading and literacy when time and pacing of curriculum do not allow adequate time spent on explicit instruction?

(3) Are classrooms that take a more holistic approach to reading instruction more effective? 

With further investigation into these questions and applying recommended tools such as human-read audiobooks, we can have hope that the achievement gap will lessen over a shorter period of time, and students who struggle with the finite processes of reading can keep pace with peers.

If reading automaticity is an issue for your struggling reader, Learning Ally, a nonprofit providing access to curriculum in human-read audiobook format can bridge the gap between lower level reading processes and reading for thorough comprehension and content mastery.


Alexander, P. A., & Jetton, T. L. (2000). Learning from Text: A Multidimensional and Developmental Perspective. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 3, pp. 285-310). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Cain, K., Catts, H., Hogan, T., & Lomax, R. (2015). Learning to Read: Should We Keep Things Simple? Reading Research Quarterly, 50(2), 151-169. doi:10.1002/rrq.99

Carbo, M. (1978a). Teaching reading with Talking Books. The Reading Teacher, 32, 267-273.

Casbergue, R. M., & Harris, K. (1996). Listening and Literacy: Audiobooks in the Reading Program. Reading Horizons, 37(1), 48-59.

Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1997). Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later. Developmental Psychology, 33(6), 934-945. doi:10.1037//0012-1649.33.6.934

Cunningham, A. E., Nathan, R. G., & Schmidt Raher, K. (2011). Orthographic Processing in Models of Word Recognition. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 259-285). New York, NY: Routledge.

Cunningham, A. E., Stanovich, K. E., & Maul, A. (2011). Of Correlations and Causes. In N. K. Duke & M. H. Mallette (Eds.), Literacy research methodologies (2nd ed., pp. 50-69). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Duke, N. K., & Carlisle, J. (2011). The Development of Comprehension. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 199-228). New York, NY: Routledge.

Durkin, D. (1978). What Classroom Observations Reveal About Reading Comprehension Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14(4), 481-533. doi:10.1598/rrq.14.4.2

Foorman, B. R., & Connor, C. (2011). Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 136-156) (M. L. Kamil, P. D. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach, Eds.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Galaburda, A. M., Sherman, G., Rosen, G., MBiol, F., & Geschwind, N. (1995). Developmental dyslexia: Four consecutive cases with cortical anomalies. Annals of Neurology, 1(2), 222-233. doi:10.1093/neucas/1.2.179-b

Kendeou, P., Broek, P. V., Helder, A., & Karlsson, J. (2014). A Cognitive View of Reading Comprehension: Implications for Reading Difficulties. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29(1), 10-16. doi:10.1111/ldrp.12025

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a wimpy kid: Greg Heffley's journal. New York, NY: Amulet Books.

Kucan, L., & Sullivan Palincsar, A. (2011). Locating Struggling Readers in a Reconfigured Landscape. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 341-358). New York, NY: Routledge.

Neuman, S. (2011). The Knowledge Gap: Implications for Early Education. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of Early Literacy Research (Vol. 2, pp. 29-40). Guilford Publications, Incorporated.

Neuman, S. B., & Celano, D. (2006). The knowledge gap: Implications of leveling the playing field for low-income and middle-income children. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(2), 176-201. doi:10.1598/rrq.41.2.2

Paratore, J. R., Cassano, C. M., & Schickedanz, J. A. (2011). Supporting Early (and Later) Literacy Development at Home and at School. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 107-135). New York, Routledge.

Paris, S. G. (2005). Reinterpreting the development of reading skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(2), 184-202. doi:10.1598/rrq.40.2.3

Pressley, M., Roehrig, A., Bogner, K., Raphal, L. M., & Dolezal, S. (2017). Balanced Literacy Instruction. Focus on Exceptional Children, 34(5), 2-14. doi:10.17161/fec.v34i5.6788

Rasinski, T. V., Reutzel, D., Chard, D., & Linan-Thompson, S. (2011). Reading Fluency. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 286-319). New York, NY: Routledge.

Roberts, T. A., Christo, C., & Shefelbine, J. A. (2011). Word Recognition. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 227-285). New York, NY: Routledge.

Rueda, R. (2011). Cultrual Perspectives in Reading: Theory and Research. In M. L. Kamil, P. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. 4, pp. 84-104). New York, NY: Routledge.

Stanovich, K. E., & Cunningham, A. E. (1993). Where Does Knowledge Come From? Specific Associations Between Print Exposure and Information Acquisition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 211-229.

Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360-407. doi:10.1598/rrq.21.4.1.

Stevens, E. A., Walker, M. A., & Vaughn, S. (2016). The Effects of Reading Fluency Interventions on the Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension Performance of Elementary Students With Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Research from 2001 to 2014. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 50(5), 576-590. doi:10.1177/0022219416638028

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Implementing the New State Dyslexia Guidelines IDA Event
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October 17, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

This blog post, by Leslie Lingaas Woodward, was first published by The California School Boards Association.

The International Dyslexia Association of Northern California, along with Learning Ally and Decoding Dyslexia, CA are sponsoring a day-long program on Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA. 

The event, Dyslexia and AB 1369: School and Community Partnership & Critical Next Steps, will begin with IDA’s popular Experience Dyslexia® simulation, a group activity that gives a hands-on sense of the classroom challenges these students confront. An afternoon panel of dyslexia experts, former members of the Dyslexia Guidelines working group, teachers and school administrators will share ways to implement guideline recommendations, drawing on examples from San Francisco Bay Area school districts.   

About Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting up to 20 percent of the population. This means that, statistically, every classroom in California has several students with dyslexia who struggle to acquire literacy skills.

In 2015, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1369, which required that the California Department of Education create state Dyslexia Guidelines to assist teachers and parents in identifying, assessing and supporting these students. The guidelines were developed with input from an expert working group and published in August 2017.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a type of neurobiological diversity characterized by problems with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding. Contrary to common myth, people with dyslexia do not see things backwards, but they find it hard to associate word sounds (phonemes) with the proper letter symbol (graphemes). Dyslexia is not related to intelligence and there are many bright students with the condition. Dyslexia can be inherited — often a child with dyslexia has a parent with this learning difference.

The underlying brain differences that characterize dyslexia can be discerned at an early age with imaging tests such as functional magnetic resonance imaging. These same imaging tests show that the neural patterns characteristic of dyslexia can change with evidence-based instructional interventions.

Students with Dyslexia need Structured Literacy to Learn

The state guidelines recommend “Structured Literacy” for all students with dyslexia. This term has been adopted by the International Dyslexia Association and other groups to describe evidence-based instructional approaches that teach students explicit and systematic strategies for decoding and spelling words. IDA has published Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading to help guide classroom and special education teachers in acquiring these skills.

Universal Screening for Early Identification

The achievement gap between students with dyslexia and typical readers is apparent by first grade. For this reason, the Dyslexia Guidelines recommend universal screening to identify at-risk students, beginning in kindergarten. Screening should cover such areas as phonemic awareness and rapid naming, both strong predictors of dyslexia. Universal screening is a key piece of a Multi-tiered System of Support and is the first step in identifying which students may need Structured Literacy. Screening should also include English learners, as these students are just as likely as native speakers to have dyslexia.  The state guidelines list options for screening tools. Others are under development, including one from the UCSF Dyslexia Center.


Leslie Lingaas Woodward is a past president and current advisory board member of IDA Northern California. She is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and Structured Literacy tutor.

Learning Ally’s human-narrated audiobooks are listed in the new California Dyslexia Guidelines (CDG) as a recommended reading accommodation by the California DOE.

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Helping Teachers Connect Students to Meaningful Reading Experiences
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October 2, 2018 by Valerie Chernek

by Kristin Longmuir, Learning Ally's Content Acquisition Specialist  

Did you know that Learning Ally has wonderful human-narrated audiobooks for both close and independent reading instruction, making stories come to life for students who struggle to read? 

When you give children and teens the time and the text to help them connect with reading materials that are meaningful to them, magic happens! Students develop stronger reading skills, are more actively involved in learning, and they are excited to share what they know in your classroom. 

Each month, we will feature books, by grade and lexile level, to support teachers' efforts to quickly find and assign appropriate titles for close and independent reading goals.

Share your comments on this blog to let us know what topics you are interested in. 

What is close reading? Close reading is when readings are repeated and discussions focus on the text in order to increase comprehension. Close reading focuses on three interpretative goals: -- what the text says, -- how the text says it, and -- what the text means.

Independent reading enables students to choose their own reading material for their independent consumption. Providing time for reading enjoyment will increase reading engagement, build stronger reading skills and foster a love of reading in your students. Here are suggested titles:

Close Reading Titles

Grades K-3

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan

Jeanette Winter / Lexile Level: AD630L / Shelf Number: JX053




Harvesting Hope: The Story Of Cesar Chavez

Kathleen Krull / Lexile Level: AD800L / Shelf Number: JK724




Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China

Ed Young / Lexile Level: 670L / Shelf Number: JS165





Grades 4-8

Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths

Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire / Lexile Level: 1070L / Shelf Number: GW189







Alan Gratz /Lexile Level: 800L / Shelf Number: NA153






Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl

Anne Frank / Lexile Level: 1080L / Shelf Number: KD437






Grades 9-12

To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee / Lexile Level: 870L / Shelf Number KM769






Of Mice And Men

John Steinbeck / Lexile Level: 630L / Shelf Number: KM755






Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival Resilience And Redemption

Lauren Hillenbrand / Lexile Level: 1010L / Shelf Number GS434






Independent Reading Titles

Grades K-3


Step Right Up : How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness

Donna Janell Bowman / Lexile Level: 910L / Shelf Number: NA662





Journey Through Ash And Smoke

Kate Messner / Lexile Level: 730L / Shelf Number: NA748






We’re All Wonders

R.J. Palacio / Lexile Level: 370L / Shelf Number NA134





Grades 4-8


Grandpa’s Great Escape

David Walliams / Lexile Level: 760L / Shelf Number: NA628






The Seventh Wish

Kate Messner / Lexile Level: 720L / Shelf Number NA592






I Survived The American Revolution 1776

Lauren Tarshis / Lexile Level: 660L / Shelf Number NA293 





Grades 9-12


Turtles All The Way Down

John Green / Lexile Level: 840L / Shelf Number NA448






Longbow Girl

Linda Davies / Lexile Level: 700 / Shelf Number NA700






All The Right Places

Jennifer Nielsen / Lexile Level: 830L / Shelf Number KW445






Learning Ally is a leading nonprofit edtech organization delivering a comprehensive learning solution for struggling readers in elementary, middle and high schools. Our proven solution includes an extensive library of human-read audiobooks that students want and need to read, along with a suite of teacher-focused resources that ensure student success. Schedule a quick demo to learn how your school or district can transform more struggling readers into grade-level achievers. 800-221-1098 

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