Harry, good to start this thread! Some of my ruminations about sight-reading (SR!) follow. SR is of critical importance for ensemble musicians who make their living reading music.
In my opinion, there is not often a standardized music reading 'system' (like solfege or Kodaly) used in American music education, so there is not often a specific SR curriculum. Our music majors seem to come by it gradually. Individual teachers may have an SR component in their teaching, but it may not synchronize with work being done in conducted ensembles.
SR relies upon the immediate recognition of musical notation - scales, arpeggios and rhythmic patterns. Hence, I propose we DO NOT require scales and arpeggios by memory until students are well along in their development. While memorizing scales and arp's forces the player to practice them, they do not deeply learn what they look like. I am particularly opposed to requiring memorized scales in competitions held for young and or beginning wind players
Students who are skilled at SR, sometimes rely on that skill to supplant genuine practicing. As a result, conductors who factor in an SR score sometimes choose better SR's to be leading players, when they might not work as hard at the music as a less-skilled SR'r.
I suspect there are many ways to learn to SR. It would be revealing for teachers to consider how they learned to SR. I improved my SR by reading duets with my junior high school instrumental teacher. I believe improvement of SR is one reason why duets appear in method books / tutors.
If SR was required in juries, the various studio teachers should consider the levels of difficulty based on the relative complexity of technique on different instruments. In other words, the same SR example should not be used for all instruments!
Here's a proposal that might outrage ensemble conductors at music schools: Require one piece at some concerts to be read at sight with no previous rehearsal! Piece not to be chosen by that ensemble's conductor. It would be a test of the players and the conductor. Imagine the outcome! We might have a new TV show "So, You Think You Can Sight Read!"
Very best wishes to all for 2010! Christopher Weait
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University