Federal

Southern States Urged to Tackle Adolescent Literacy

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 01, 2009 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Southern Regional Education Board is advising its 16 member states to devise a comprehensive set of policies to improve reading for middle and high school students.

Calling adolescent reading “the most critical priority for public middle grades and high schools,” a report released today at the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association in Washington advises states to identify reading skills that apply to different subject areas, craft curricula, establish reading-intervention programs, and prepare teachers of adolescents to teach reading along with academic content.

It also calls on states to prepare a detailed plan to work with school districts to implement the policies.

“We’re saying this needs to be the top priority, even if something else has to give,” David S. Spence, the president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, said in an interview. “It’s obvious that we get kids reading or decoding by grade 4 or 5, and we probably make good progress in that. But in terms of higher-level reading, reading comprehension, we just don’t do it.”

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia chaired the committee of legislators, state education officials, and others who came up with the recommendations for adolescent reading. The panel recognized, he said, “the problem that we stop teaching reading too early.”

Not every teacher, he said, needs to be a reading specialist. But all teachers do need to be trained, he added, in how to recognize reading deficits, and schools need to have strategies to respond to them.

Virginia has a higher percentage of 8th graders scoring at or above proficiency in reading than any other SREB state, he said. At the same time, he said, that figure—34 percent—"is hardly anything to turn cartwheels about.”

“An unacceptably high percentage of our students who go on to community college or four-year universities require remedial work,” said Mr. Kaine, who is a Democrat.

Getting Beyond Stories

Several reading experts who were not involved with the publication of the report, “A Critical Mission: Making Adolescent Reading an Immediate Priority in SREB States,” said its recommendations are on target.

They’re consistent with recommendations on adolescent literacy that have been made recently by the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, said Ilene Berman, a program director for that center. “We, too, recommend that states build support for a state focus on adolescent literacy,” she said. “We encourage states to write and implement literacy plans.”

“I am glad to see they are doing this, because there was a certain period in American education, not too long ago, that it was assumed if you were just worried about reading in the primary grades, you’d solve all your problems,” said Catherine Snow, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. But, she said, many students need instruction beyond the primary grades in how to read for different purposes.

Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford University, echoed Ms. Snow’s views that many educators have erroneously believed that students only need to be taught to read in the primary grades. Reading instruction in those grades, he says, focuses mostly on stories. But in middle and high school, Mr. Kamil noted, students need reading skills for other kinds of text.

“We have the stories, but then we have an intermediate form of text that is relatively information. Newspapers are a good example. Then we have a formal text, like a biology textbook,” he said, contending that educators teach a lot about reading stories, a bit about reading informal texts, and very little about reading formal texts.

A big piece in the puzzle of improving adolescent literacy, Mr. Kamil said, is training all middle and high school teachers to teach reading. Regular classroom teachers can help struggling readers by explicitly teaching vocabulary, he said, or by teaching reading-comprehension strategies. He added, however, that some students may have to be removed from the classroom for additional reading instruction as well.

The report says none of the 16 SREB states has a comprehensive plan to address adolescent literacy, but Alabama and Florida are ahead of other Southern states in implementing reading initiatives for middle or high school students.

Alabama, for instance, has been expanding a reading initiative that started in the early primary grades to grades 4 to 8.

Joe Morton, the superintendent of education for Alabama, said his state plans to use economic-stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, such as extra funds for school improvement, to carry out some recommendations in the SREB report.

One of the next steps in Alabama will be to include some high schools in the statewide reading initiative, which supports reading coaches in schools. Mr. Morton said data from the 29 schools with students in grades 4-8 who have participated in the reading initiative show that it is working.

He agrees with the SREB report that adolescent reading should be his state’s number one education priority.

“If you can’t read, there is no other thing to do in school with students for six and a half hours except discipline them and take them to lunch,” he said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal 'A Snitch Line on Parents.' GOP Reps Grill AG Over Response to Threats on School Officials
Attorney General Merrick Garland said his effort is meant to address violent threats against school boards, not to stifle parents' dissent.
5 min read
LEFT: Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. RIGHT: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questions Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, left, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the U.S. Department of Justice on Capitol Hill on Thursday, questioned by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, among others.
Greg Nash via AP, Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal School Boards, 'Domestic Terrorism,' and Free Speech: Inside the Debate
From critical race theory to COVID policy, the heat on schools has raised issues involving free speech and the safety of public officials.
13 min read
Brenda Stephens, a school board member with Orange County Public Schools in Hillsborough, N.C. has purchased a weapon and taken a concealed carry class over concerns for her personal safety.
Brenda Stephens, a school board member in Hillsborough, N.C., says board members face threats and bullying, an atmosphere far different from what she's encountered in years of board service.
Kate Medley for Education Week
Federal Senate Confirms Catherine Lhamon to Civil Rights Post; Kamala Harris Casts Decisive Vote
Joe Biden's controversial pick to lead the Education Department's office for civil rights held that job in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Catherine Lhamon, nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Catherine Lhamon, then-nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, testifies during a Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing in July.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images
Federal White House Outlines COVID-19 Vaccination Plans for Kids 5-11
The Biden administration will rely on schools, pharmacies, and pediatricians to help deliver the COVID-19 shots to younger children.
3 min read
Ticket number 937 sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds on Jan. 14, 2021, in Newnan, Ga.
A ticket number sits on a COVID-19 vaccination at the drive-thru vaccination site in the Coweta County Fairgrounds in Newnan, Ga.
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP