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FOCUS ON ADOLESCENT LITERACY NEEDED AT STATE AND SCHOOL LEVELS: Three New Reports Call for Literacy Instruction in Higher Grades

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"As literacy skills improve, student achievement rises not only in reading and writing but across the curriculum spectrum, a benefit that has profound consequences for the ultimate success of standards-based reform."

An old Buddhist proverb reads “If a seed of lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.” Such could be the sentiment behind the flurry of activity around adolescent literacy over the last few weeks. During this time, three separate organizations released new reports on the subject. While different in their target audiences, all three reports agreed that reading instruction beyond the third grade is a must for all states and schools if students are to be properly prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce.

The first two reports, from the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), highlight successful state efforts that are already tackling the literacy crisis in middle and high schools. Both reports urge states to reconsider the role that literacy instruction can play in improving secondary schools. The third report, from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), acts as a field guide on adolescent literacy for school leaders and gives practical steps on how to confront the deficit in literacy skills in secondary schools.

In Reading to Achieve: A Governor’s Guide to Adolescent Literacy, the NGA culls five recommendations from existing state best practices to help governors in their attempts to improve adolescent literacy achievement in their states: 1) build support for a state focus on adolescent literacy; 2) raise literacy expectations across grades and curricula; 3) support school and district literacy plans; 4) build educators’ capacity to provide adolescent literacy instruction; and 5) measure progress in adolescent literacy at school, district, and state levels.

“Strong reading, writing, and thinking skills have never been more important for success in school and the workplace than they are in today’s information age,” said John Thomasian, director of the NGA Center for Best Practices. “This guide will help governors tackle this critical issue head-on. Governors understand that nearly two out of every three jobs in the coming decade will require postsecondary education, and the fastest-growing job sectors require the highest literacy and education demands.”

The NASBE report, Reading at Risk: The State Response to the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, strongly recommends that every state “develop and vigorously implement a statewide literacy plan to ensure that all students can read proficiently.” It notes that most reform in the arena of adolescent literacy has taken place “at the margins,” rather than the full-scale effort by states that is needed to address the issue.

The report stresses that improving literacy is the key to raising student achievement and generating school improvement. “Literacy is the linchpin of standards-based reform,” it reads. “As literacy skills improve, student achievement rises not only in reading and writing but across the curriculum spectrum, a benefit that has profound consequences for the ultimate success of standards-based reform.”

The NASSP report, Creating a Culture of Literacy: A Guide for Middle and High School Principals, approaches the problem at the school level. It calls for a greater focus on reading skills at the middle and high school levels, but acknowledges that many schools do not have the “trained staff, resources, and fiscal support to ensure supplemental and supportive literacy programs.”

In order to fully implement a successful adolescent literacy program at the secondary school level, the report identifies several key elements that must be in place, including committed and supportive school leaders, ongoing research-based professional development, and highly effective teachers in every content area who can provide explicit instruction to improve comprehension.

“By using the key elements as a foundation for implementing [an adolescent literacy program], schools will not only experience improved literacy in the present, but also impact the long-range academic success of their students by enhancing their chances for postsecondary education and future employability,” said Dr. Melvina Phillips, the report’s author. “It is a task that can no longer be ignored.”

NGA Reporthttp://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0510GOVGUIDELITERACY.PDF.
NASBE Report (Executive Summary): http://www.nasbe.org/recent_pubs/reading_at_risk.htm.
NASSP Report: http://www.principals.org/s_nassp/sec.asp?CID=62&DID=62.

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