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Drop in Reading Activity Between 9 and 17 Charted

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Washington

Students' reading activity drops off dramatically between the ages of 9 and 17, a national survey on reading habits suggests.

Released here last week, the survey is the second conducted for the American Federation of Teachers and the Chrysler Corporation as part of a joint education effort with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. It is based on telephone interviews with 524 students in grades 4 through 12 and interviews with 50 teachers.

The survey found that 86 percent of 9-year-olds said they read a book at least a few times a week. That proportion, however, was only half as large among 17-year-olds. Only 42 percent of that group reported reading weekly.

The report suggests that the decline occurs in part because teenagers become more interested in social activities as they grow older. When asked, for example, what activity would be the most difficult to give up for a week, more than half of the 17-year-olds chose social activities--playing sports and talking on the telephone. Only 14 percent of that age group picked reading.

"Even music and video games--two of the most salient symbols of youth--cannot compete with the social interaction provided by sports and the telephone,'' says the report on the survey, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc.

Math, Computers on Rise

The pollsters said decreases in reading also stem from the increasing prominence of mathematics and computers. Sixty-five percent of 9- to 17-year-olds and 63 percent of parents said mathematics is among the most important skills "to learn to be successful in life.'' But only 34 percent of young people and 58 percent of parents chose reading as very important.

A year earlier, a plurality of 44 percent of parents and young people had selected reading as the most important skill.

The survey also pinpointed several factors that were linked to frequent reading among young people. Nearly two-thirds of young people who were characterized as active and moderate readers, for example, said their parents had read to them every day when they were younger and encouraged them to read now. Of those who had "marginal or low parent involvement'' in reading, 58 percent said they read only occasionally or infrequently.

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