According to the data from the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 26 percent of eighth graders and 23 percent of twelfth graders do not have even partial mastery of the fundamental reading skills expected at their grade levels. Assuming that these rates apply comparably to all middle and high school students, 6 million students in grades 6 through 12 are reading below basic levels.
Research shows, however, that students who receive intensive, focused literacy instruction and tutoring will graduate from high school and attend college in significantly greater numbers than those not receiving such attention. Despite these findings, few middle or high schools have a comprehensive approach to teaching literacy across the curriculum.
This fall, several school districts around the country are implementing new programs designed to improve reading. In Ohio, the Dayton Public Schools District will devote 2.5 hours every day to reading and other literacy activities as part of the district’s new literacy initiative. More than 400 district teachers and principals have received literacy training and 24 reading coaches have been trained to work in elementary schools. Meanwhile, Miami -Dade County Public Schools District will expand its reading intervention plan to middle schools and high schools. The plan, already credited with boosting student performance in several low-performing elementary schools, calls for more and smaller reading classes.
In its Framework for an Excellent Education, the Alliance calls for the implementation of a national Adolescent Literacy Initiative. The Initiative would build upon Congress’ and the President’s commitment to early literacy intervention. The Reading First initiative now in place distributes $5 billion over five years to states to establish high-quality, scientifically based, comprehensive reading instruction for students in kindergarten through third grade, but it is not designed to help middle and high school students.
Improving reading in early grades cannot by itself solve literacy problems at the high school level. Under the Alliance’s proposed Adolescent Literacy Initiative, every high-needs middle and high school will have a literacy specialist who trains teachers across subject areas to improve students’ intermediate and advanced reading and writing skills. In addition, teachers will learn to identify reading difficulties and ensure that students receive the extra help they need to become effective readers and writers and thus able to succeed in challenging high school courses. Without this intervention, most at-risk students will fail to master challenging coursework and will be at greater risk of dropping out of school.
|“Literacy Interns” Help Improve Reading and Math Skills for Inner-City Kids
A few years ago, Alexander McClure Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received federal money to reduce class size. Faced with lack of space and lack of teachers, Alexander McClure chose to partner “literacy interns”-specially trained college graduates who lacked certification-with classroom teachers. Writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, Ronnie Polaneczky profiles the school and the gains its students are making.
As part of the program, the literacy interns were trained in the district’s “balanced approach” to reading, which allows students time for both guided group and individual reading. According to McClure principal Vera Dierkes, the program works because the additional teacher in the room means that students who need extra help receive it and more advanced students are not held back by slower learners-evidenced by the fact that the number of McClure students identified as “mentally gifted” has risen from five to 42 since 1999.
The program also helps in teacher recruitment and retention in the district. At McClure, five new teachers are also former interns. Throughout the district, 102 former interns have become certified teachers. However, not everything is sunny in the city of brotherly love as Polaneczky sarcastically notes: “Literacy interns are now in elementary schools, and every indication shows their presence is a godsend. Which means -of course-that their positions are in danger of being axed.”