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Report: With More than Half of the Nation’s Students Struggling with Reading, NCLB Rewrite Must Address Students’ Literacy Needs

New Alliance for Excellent Education Report Includes Detailed State-by-State Reading Data from Nation’s Report Card

WASHINGTON, DC – Noting that 60 percent of both fourth and eighth graders currently struggle with reading, a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education urges the U.S. Congress to focus on students’ literacy development from early childhood through grade twelve as it works to rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

“Teaching students to read when they are young is an important booster shot, but not a lifelong inoculation, against further reading problems,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. “Instead, students need continued reading and writing support throughout their educational career—especially as they encounter more challenging reading material in middle and high school. Unfortunately, few states provide this continued support, and as a result, the majority of today’s students leave high school without the reading and writing skills necessary for success in an information-age economy.”

According to the report, The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA, the problem is especially acute among students of color and students from low-income families, nearly half of whom enter fifth grade without rudimentary reading skills. Based on the 2013 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, 50 percent of African Americans, 47 percent of Latinos, and 47 percent of students from low-income families read below NAEP’s basic level. (The report includes detailed graphs showing state-by-state NAEP reading achievement results for fourth and eighth grades and includes data broken down for African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino, and white students, as well as for students who are eligible/ineligible for free or reduced-price lunch.)

“Without essential literacy skills to master academic course work, students lose the motivation and confidence vital to maintaining their investment in learning,” the report notes. “Furthermore, students who do not read well are more likely to be retained in school, drop out of high school, become teen parents, or enter the juvenile justice system.”

As part of a solution, the report highlights proposed federal legislation, the Literacy Education for All, Results for a Nation (LEARN) Act, which would encourage schools and educators to use research-based strategies to teach reading and writing within subject areas and across grade levels. The LEARN Act would also support schools to provide high-quality classroom literacy instruction as well as a continuum of interventions and support for students with or at risk of reading failure.

Elements of the LEARN Act were included in the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), which is the U.S. Senate’s legislation to rewrite NCLB.

Following Senate passage of ECAA in July, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who first introduced the LEARN Act in 2009, issued a written statement expressing support for the literacy provisions.

“In the Every Child Achieves Act, the bipartisan legislation I worked on with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), to fix No Child Left Behind, I fought to include critical provisions of the LEARN Act, including dedicated funding for comprehensive literacy programs,” Murray writes. “These programs will provide support to hardworking teachers and other professionals so that they can improve literacy instruction and programming for our most vulnerable students. I was proud when ECAA passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, and I am going to continue to support programs that will improve the literacy of all students as this legislation moves forward.”

In addition to its legislative recommendations, The Next Chapter examines why students struggle to read and measures the success of other federal efforts to improve literacy, including Reading First and the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program. Noting that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides essential protections for students with a wide range of disabilities, including those that affect reading achievement, the report stresses that IDEA was never intended to address the problem of inadequate instruction and intervention for students who experience poor literacy achievement in the nation’s schools.

The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA is available at

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.