Monday, January 26, 2015

The Debate About Third Grade Reading Levels

In the past couple of years , there have been several articles that have brought up the fact that the reading levels among elementary school children is low.  Actually, there are some states that have passed laws stating that a child can not go on to fourth grade until they have mastered the reading level of third grade. Some educators argue that holding back a child would be more harmful then helpful.   Reading skills and preschool was  among the topic of President Obama's 2013  State of the Union address.  The president was hoping to get bipartisan support to help children  in low income areas the opportunity for preschool education which may enable them to get a head start in the right direction.  In 2015, the debate is far from over.  One thing remains clear, when separating the emotions from the rhetoric,  everyone can agree that strong reading skills are necessary for a success in every area of life  Where the debate get's muddled, is how can educators, librarians, parents and even politicians find the perfect answer to this complex problem?

Studies have shown that students who are not reading at their grade level or lower are four times less likely to graduate from high school (  Consider what that means for a moment.  It's harder to get a job without a high school diploma.  Chances are these students will be living at poverty level.  What is the percentage of high school drop outs who are incarcerated?  In a 2009 study by Northwestern University it is a staggering 63%.   In this day and time in America, this is just not acceptable.

If all indicators,  statistical as well as anecdotal data, point to Third grade level reading skills as the tipping point of success or failure for students, why is there still a debate on how to handle the problem?

Simple.  From educators to parents, school boards and public officials, everyone has an answer but few realize the common sense solution.  The only proven way to encourage and improve reading skills if it is promoted in the home.  This can not be legislated.  It can only be promoted and encouraged from professionals to parents.   From the very beginning, parents should be reminded that reading to a child is beneficial on so many levels.  From emotional,  quality time spent with a child interacting with them,  to the cerebral when tiny minds are absorbing new ideas, words and imaginative worlds.  It is priceless.  In many homes,  reading is not encouraged either because there are no books or the adults in the house do not read for pleasure.   In June of 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics jumped on the bandwagon of urging parents to read to their babies from day one.  It's an important step forward in helping to bring reading levels up for all children.  Let's not forget that the public library has many ways to promote reading.

One of the best books about how reading aloud impacts a child was written by Mem Fox, notable children's authors. In her book,  Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, (which is a quick read), Ms. Fox demonstrates with passion and humor how reading aloud to a child helps them want to learn to read themselves.  How it stimulus the emotional and intellectual part of learning paving the path to lifelong readers.   If parents are too busy to read Ms. Fox's book, then at least they should be given the statistics that were given earlier in hopes that it will encourage them to at least change  habits at home.  For example, set aside fifteen minutes a day to read with the child.  Find ways to participate in library programs such as story times, or other children programs that encourage early reading.  Many of these programs are on Saturdays or evenings to accommodate busy work schedules.  In a nut shell, educate and encourage the parents so that there is no excuse not to read to children.

Is a person who is illiterate as an adult out of luck when it comes to learning this skill?  Not at all.  It's never to late to learn to read.   That discussion will be saved for next week's post.

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