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%.”

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?

Michelle Cochran is a reading and literacy specialist.


(6) comments


It will take twice as long to undo the damage done by not doing firstly...Duh!!! Sort of what Holt and Dewey Johns said long ago. But we all know we know better than them, right?


I think John Holt's first book, "How Children Learn" was another ignored best-seller.

Always comes back to family, "don't it!"


Well? What is wrong with reading (John) Holt? "The Way It S'posed to Be!"

And working to educate parents? Thing is, whatever is done will take at least one generation to take hold...

Education and freedom...both demand the same effort and personal investment (labor).


The Winona Community Foundation has been funding a program at WK to help bring kids increase their reading abilities. My parents used to volunteer at a local grade school to help kids with their reading skills. I imagine the lawyers probably found something wrong with that. How about the old McGuffy readers?

Becky Lingen

Yes!! I've read the same investigative report. My first impulse when I read about the reading scores, was to get the link to the Superintendent. I would also suggest, "Why Johnny Can't Read" by Rudolph Flesch. Written in the 1950s, it is STILL pertinent today. One last thing... I use 100 Easy Lessons To Teach Your Child to Read. It is 15 minutes a day, can be started with an average 4 year old, and gets kids up to a 1st or 2nd grade reading level. I'm curious what a Distar reading program would do for Winona!

michelle cochran

Good thoughts...I really believe the best investment is science-based reading teaching training, ongoing professional development for teachers and making schools and teachers have the resources they need to give each kid the attention they need.

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