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NEW REPORT FINDS A “LONG, UPHILL ROAD” TO MEETING STATE AND NATIONAL LITERACY GOALS

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"With little or no access to high-quality reading instruction beyond grade 3 or 4 and little remediation, much less expert, intensive reading instruction, why would we expect the data presented to look any different?" Richard Allington, the vice president of the International Reading Association, said to Education Week.

Insufficient progress is being made to bring students to proficiency in reading by the 2014 goal set by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) according to a new report from the RAND Corporation. The report, Achieving State and National Literacy Goals, a Long Uphill Road: A Report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, calls on policymakers to accept responsibility for improving reading instruction in later grades through increased attention and resources.

The RAND study examined results on state reading tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment for each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia to assess the condition of literacy in the United States. The study’s timeline did not allow for detailed analyses of the state assessments or the results, but merely sought to report on the data. Although the state tests are not analogous and the rigor of the tests varies widely, the results nevertheless indicate that too few adolescents-particularly African Americans and Hispanics-are meeting state and national benchmarks.

NCLB requires states to adopt standards for all students. States must establish performance goals and track the progress of all students on these goals. The stated ambition of NCLB is that, at the end of twelve years (2014), all students will read at proficient levels or above. In several states, the report found that fewer than half of the students met the state proficiency standards. In no state do even half of the students meet the NAEP national literacy standard of proficiency. Furthermore, the wide disparity in the achievement levels of student subgroups makes reaching the 100 percent proficiency goal for all students a more challenging task for certain schools and districts.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education dismissed the RAND analysis and stressed that it was too soon to make such judgments on the prospects for meeting the federal goal. “We’re only a few years into these reforms, and just because we’re not there yet doesn’t mean we abandon kids and the goal of having them all at grade level,” Susan Aspey, U.S. Department of Education press secretary, said.

Other observers indicate the results are unsurprising, given the low priority given to literacy beyond the primary grades. “With little or no access to high-quality reading instruction beyond grade 3 or 4 and little remediation, much less expert, intensive reading instruction, why would we expect the data presented to look any different?” Richard Allington, the vice president of the International Reading Association, said to Education Week.

The RAND report warns that the failure of our schools to teach our students to read at proficiency has dire consequences: “It is clear that simply mandating standards and assessment is not going to guarantee success. Unless we . . . are prepared to focus attention and resources on this issue, our schools are likely to continue producing students who lack skills and are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of postsecondary education.”

The report is available at http://www.rand.org/publications/TR/TR180/.

The complete Education Week article is available at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/01/05/16rand.h24.html.

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