Developmental reading programs are specialized courses at colleges designed to improve students' reading skills to the level needed for college coursework. Some students may be required to enroll in a developmental reading program to prepare for more advanced college courses. In these programs, students learn the skills of a capable reader, such as interpreting an author's tone and argument, and gain confidence in their academic abilities.


Many students graduate from high school without adequate reading-comprehension and vocabulary skills. Developmental reading programs provide additional training and experience so students can make the most of reading assignments in later courses. Sometimes also called remedial reading programs, they are important at many colleges, particularly community colleges with open-admission policies. Without these programs, some students would be unable to proceed through college courses that require substantial amounts of reading and could not obtain degrees.

Time Frame

Students entering college often must take placement tests that measure their abilities in reading, writing and math. If students don't do well on the reading test, they may have to take one or more developmental reading courses. The courses usually must be taken during the first semester or two of college coursework. Taking these courses early means that the student will be well-prepared to enroll in more advanced courses that require sophisticated reading abilities. However, these courses may not count toward a degree at many colleges because they are primarily remedial in nature.

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Coursework in a developmental reading program will likely focus on various aspects of skillful reading, including understanding vocabulary, finding main ideas in text, answering questions based on text, interpreting tone and analyzing arguments. These courses may require students to spend time both in the classroom and in a laboratory or tutoring center. Some of these courses are also now offered by colleges as distance-learning courses over the Internet.


A developmental reading program not only allows students to improve their individual skills, but also provides a college with capable students who can meet the challenges of all their courses. Many colleges with developmental reading programs test students before and after their participation in the program to determine how well the program is working and how it might be improved to better aid students' academic achievement.


Some colleges are redesigning their developmental reading programs to make them more personalized and compatible with individual students' needs. These programs often use small classes, a tutoring system, and flexible online coursework and technology to help students improve their reading skills, instead of relying on a rigid curriculum that may not work well for every student.

About the Author

Susan Sivek teaches journalism and communication and is also a freelance writer. She has been writing since 1999. Her writing interests include travel, health, exercise, cooking, crafts and more. She has been published in scholarly journals, on, and on eHow. Sivek holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.