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READING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: Improving the Literacy of Children in Grades Four through 12

There are approximately 8.7 million fourth- through 12th-graders in America whose chances for academic success are dismal because they are unable to read and comprehend the material in their textbooks. National and international tests incontrovertibly prove that far too many of America’s children are reading at levels that are unacceptably low. The 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams showed that 25 percent of eighth-graders and 26 percent of 12th-graders were reading at “below basic” levels. The 2003 results were no better. Fourth-graders scored the same and eighth-grade scores actually decreased by one point from 2002. Twenty-six percent of eighth-grade students read below “basic”. (Approximately 343,000 students across the nation in grades four and eight participated in the NAEP 2003 reading assessment-12th-graders were not assessed in 2003. Results of the assessment were released on November 13, 2003 and will be featured in a future issue of Straight A’s). International comparisons of reading performance placed American 11th-graders very close to the bottom, behind students from the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, and other developing nations.

A new Alliance report, Adolescents and Literacy: Reading for the 21st Century, examines the reliable, empirical research that exists on how to improve the literacy of children in grades four through 12. It offers policymakers and the public a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that confront the nation as it begins to work to improve the literacy levels of older children. The report demonstrates that we already know a great deal about reading comprehension and about effective methods for helping students of all ages become better readers.

The report examines information related to teaching and learning strategies, the prevention of reading difficulties, the components of effective reading instruction, and reading comprehension. It also explores the importance and impact of a number of factors on literacy instruction including motivation, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (including prior knowledge and strategy instruction).

In addition, Adolescents and Literacy considers the developmental nature of reading and content learning, the differing needs of English-language learners, and the role that technology can play in helping students to better read and comprehend text. It also explores the importance of education and professional development for teachers to improve the reading ability of their students, and the infrastructure that currently exists in middle and high schools that encourages or discourages reading instruction.

Adolescents and Literacy is available online at: https://all4ed.org/files/AdolescentsAndLiteracy.pdf

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