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LITERACY TROUBLES IN OUR NATION’S HIGH SCHOOLS: California Columnist Offers Possible Suggestions for Parents

"In California last year....39 percent of ninth-graders scored at the bottom of national reading tests, with the percentage rising as high as 89 percent at an East Bay continuation school."

Last month, the Alliance for Excellent Education released Left Out And Left Behind: NCLB and the American High School, a new report that lifted the curtain on low reading scores and high dropout rates in high schools throughout the country. It showed that 714,000 high school seniors (23 percent) have difficulty reading on the eve of their high school graduation, with a wide disparity among states. For example, while 16 percent of eighth-grade students read below basic levels in Maine, 39 percent of students in Mississippi fall into that category.

In California, this problem is especially acute. In a recent article for the Contra Costa Times, a newspaper covering the San Francisco Bay area, Suzanne Pardington wrote about the difficulty many California high school students experience when trying to read at their grade level. “In California last year,” she writes, “39 percent of ninth-graders scored at the bottom of national reading tests, with the percentage rising as high as 89 percent at an East Bay continuation school.”

In the fall of 2002, however, poor readers in several Bay Area ninth-grade classes were assigned to a special reading class, in which students first learned to recognize basic words and sounds and then moved on to reading first- or second-grade texts. Now, as the end of the 2002-03 school year approaches, teachers of these classes say that many students have advanced several grade levels in their reading ability; some ninth graders who began the year reading at the second- or third-grade level now read closer to a seventh- or eighth-grade level. And their grades have not just gone up in English; they have also shown improvement in other classes across the curriculum.

There is still, however, more work to be done: despite being able to read freely through a text, some students continue to struggle with reading comprehension, and also have difficulty putting ideas and themes onto paper. According to Pardington, “Even a student with a fourth-grade reading level eventually managed to write a simple five-paragraph essay with a thesis sentence, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. But colleges expect far more sophisticated work.”

Pardington’s article is available at

Pardington’s Follow-Up Article Offers Advice to Parents

In a follow-up piece to the article mentioned above, Suzanne Pardington offers advice on how parents can help their own children learn to read better. She suggests that parents who suspect that their child may have trouble reading should begin at the school: they can start by finding out their child’s reading level, or asking for him or her to be tested.

Pardington also recommends taking advantage of free tutoring services, which may be available from local libraries, community centers, or churches. Private tutoring services are also an option, but can be costly. However, she adds, “Under the federal No Child Left Behindlegislation, students who attend designated ‘program improvement’ schools can demand that the school district pay for it.”

Pardington’s article is available at

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