Report: States Need ‘Literacy Revolution’
By Tim Weldon, CSG Education Policy Analyst
A report published by the Carnegie Corporation of New York is calling for a “literacy revolution” that will include major reforms to improve reading skills in American schools. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 29 percent of America’s eighth grade public school students meet the National Assessment of Educational Progress standards for their grade levels. Poor reading skills are often cited as a key motive for students’ decisions to drop out of school.
Reading skills problems are most acute among minority and low-income students and in Southern and Western states, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress data. Roughly one-third of high school graduates are not ready to succeed in an introductory level college writing course, according to an American College Testing report.
“It is not enough to simply open the schoolhouse doors and invite children in,” said the report, “A Time to Act,” which was released in September. “Once they are in the classroom, providing all students with a high-quality and challenging educational experience aimed at developing intellectual skills, critical thinking and effective communication has to be at the center of everyone’s efforts.”
In addition to examining the source of the poor reading skills of the nation’s adolescents, the report provides recommendations to policymakers at the federal, state and local levels.
Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian said at the report’s launch, “Today, let us set ourselves the task of helping all American students to become wealthy in knowledge and understanding by improving their literacy skills. As Andrew Carnegie said, one of the jobs of a patriot is ‘... the dispelling of ignorance and the fostering of education.’”
The report concludes that American schools have a strong base of reading instruction from kindergarten to third grade. Literacy instruction, particularly in middle and high school grades, however, is generally fragmented and of poor quality, according to the report.
“Adolescents who fail to master these more complex tasks in their learning process are likely to become unskilled workers in a world where literacy is an absolute precondition for success,” the report said.
The impetus for improving adolescent literacy should not be left to schools and districts alone, according to “A Time to Act.” States play a critical role in supporting efforts on the local level. Moreover, those states that have invested in adolescent literacy initiatives are already seeing positive benefits for their efforts, according to the report. For example, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts and New Jersey have each made targeted investments in adolescent literacy and seen significant gains in eighth grade reading scores on both national standards and state assessments.
Among recommendations for state government policymakers, the report suggests the following:
Align the content of state standards to models created by the International Reading Association adolescent literacy coaching standards and American Diploma Project high school standards.
Ensure that state reading assessments are as challenging as the National Assessment of Educational Progress standards and tests in states make progress on those national outcomes, such as in Florida and Massachusetts.
Work to revise teacher certification standards, content of pre-service teacher education programs, and professional development and support to districts.
Define and provide mechanisms for districts and schools to identify and intervene with middle and high school students who are not demonstrating grade-level literacy skills within specific content areas, as well as across all content areas.
Build statewide data systems to ensure data collected from districts are captured in a central place. Enable links between district databases so that assessments and instructional plans are available when students cross district lines.
Require credit-bearing reading intervention classes for students who are reading two or more years behind grade level.
The report’s recommendations also intersect with the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant guidelines with their emphasis on standards and assessments, data systems, great teachers and leaders, and re-engineering struggling schools.