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Tuesday, 28th September 2010

New Alliance Brief Calls for Greater Federal Role to Confront Literacy Crisis in Middle and High Schools

New Alliance Brief Calls for Greater Federal Role to Confront Literacy Crisis in Middle and High Schools
Source: Alliance for Excellent Education

Without a consistent commitment to delivering comprehensive reading and writing instruction throughout the pre-K–12 grade span, many low-income students and students of color will remain sidelined from full participation in the modern workplace, warns a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, The Federal Role in Confronting the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, notes that Congress has dedicated substantial funds to improving reading skills of students in kindergarten through grade three, but this targeted investment has not resulted in the ultimate goal of preparing students to succeed in college and careers.
According to the brief—made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York—substantial research shows that around grade four students must move from learning to read to reading to learn as they encounter increasingly complex subject-matter material. Without ongoing content-area literacy support, however, many students lose ground because they lack the background knowledge and reading strategies necessary to comprehend the challenging concepts introduced in middle and high school.

This literacy problem affects many students, particularly low-income students and students of color. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 70 percent of eighth-grade students score below the “proficient” level in reading achievement. For students of color and low-income students, the figures are even more disturbing as only 14 percent of African American, 17 percent of Hispanic, and 21 percent of Native American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. When students cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read, they will likely be relegated to the ranks of unskilled workers in a world where literacy is an absolute precondition for success, the brief argues.

The brief also notes that the individual student is not the only one affected. Limited progress in improving literacy achievement of middle and high school students has “seriously compromised” the nation’s international standing and capacity to compete globally. Although students in grade four score among the best in the world in reading achievement, by grade ten U.S. students have placed close to the bottom among developed nations. During the last thirty-seven years, the literacy performance of thirteen- and seventeen-year-olds on NAEP has remained consistently low, with nearly six million of the twenty-two million American secondary students struggling to read and write.

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