For more than 10 years, I have worked as a reading specialist at an open-enrollment community college requiring a high school diploma or GED to enroll.
Incoming students complete a placement test in reading, to determine college reading readiness.
Each fall, about 200 students’ reading scores indicate they will struggle with college reading. Further test results indicate about half of these are unable to read and understand text above fifth-grade level.
Low reading skill creates a gap between a student’s ability to learn and ability to understand and learn from text.
These low readers disproportionately belong to underserved groups, and without a strong boost in reading the door to higher education is closed to them.
New high school graduates are discouraged when their first financial aid dollars must be spent on a non-college credit bearing reading class.
On Nov. 23, the Winona Daily News, reported: WAPS falls short of ‘Best Workforce goals.’ “Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment reading proficiency scores for all students in third grade ... dropped from 50.9% to 42.1%.”
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While reading scores across the country are dismal, research shows that third-graders who read below grade level are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives. The stakes are high.
Many of my students tell me that they began to struggle with reading at a young age. Falling behind in reading may manifest as disengagement, misbehavior and/or absenteeism.
These students often think of themselves as “not smart” when the real problem is low reading skill. Content learning is lost, and it is not their fault.
I understand the monumental task before our teachers and administrators, especially with narrowing budgets and growing needs. From my perspective, though, a basic level of literacy — the level needed to learn in college — is a basic right.
There is hope. In 2015, with a budget crisis and 56% of third-graders reading proficiently, the school district in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania overhauled its reading curriculum. An American Public Media investigative report explains how teachers’ success adopting new strategies is now helping almost every kid read at grade level.
What about Winona? Will our community come together and save our kids?