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Front Page » May 26, 2005 » Local News » Reading is a basic fundamental that can't be ignored
Published 3,496 days ago

Reading is a basic fundamental that can't be ignored


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By RICHARD SHAW
General manager


Jayden Horrocks demonstrates a skill that children must have to stay up with the fast moving world. Reading is very fundamental.

Ninety percent.

For most older than Generation X 90 percent meant they would probably get an A in a class they were taking.

It meant they were in the top 10 percent of their class when they received that grade on a test.

Today it still can mean that, but it is also a goal; a goal of many school districts when it comes to reading. In specific, a goal that Carbon School District wishes to soon achieve.

While the President of the United States has set a goal of 100 percent of kids reading at grade level by the end of the third grade in his No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, a goal that most educators think is unrealistic, many today find that due to a number of studies and experiments, 90 percent of those children can be to grade level by that time. That is something not thought possible at one time.

When the federal government released the report called America at Risk over 20 years ago, it was a shock to the education establishment. That report found that the background students had behind them was causing the skills and standards of the age to be slipping. Fundamental among those skills was reading.

In 1998 three educators from the Kennewick, Wash., area published a book called The 90% Reading Goal. The book itself was not really written for other educators, but to inform the public, officials, politicians and the media that schools were not without the ability to educate students anymore. It asked a question.

What does the general public believe the percentage of students in school is, that can read at their own grade level? The answer that the authors came up with and the truth of the matter were two very different things. At the time most Americans, including most school board members, believed that 90 percent of the kids in school could read at grade level. The truth in 1998 was that only about 40 percent could. In fact at the time few educators believe that 90 percentile could ever be reached.

The book noted that compared with each other "each of these groups is shocked by the reaction of the other. How can those in charge of public education routinely assume that most children...read at grade level, while educators (themselves) not only know they are not but also think this level of literacy is impossible to achieve?"

Some may not be shocked by the fact that in many places reading levels are under 50 percent. But the fact remains that reading is the most fundamental thing in education. Without the ability to read, and read well, children fall farther and farther behind each year in all their other subjects.

"A child who doesn't read, or who reads poorly, must endure nine to twelve years in an educational system that uses reading as its primary delivery system," states Richard Wood, coordinator of testing for Carbon School District. "As an adult in the economic world, lack of reading ability is punished by lack of opportunity. A child who doesn't read has little chance to succeed."

Education in our society is delivered through the written word. Some learning is done visually but between books, newspapers, magazines, journals and now the internet, reading is the basis for learning. In the second grade children are expected to read 211,000 words to keep up with their studies. By the fifth grade that number has jumped to 1,080,000. When the child reaches the 10th grade, it takes reading 2,300,000 words to stay on top of it. And it only grows from there.

Reading is fundamental to all other learning because even though it is tested in school achievement tests just like math and science, they are content areas, learned largely from reading. Reading is a skill, just like knowing how to weld, sew or weave baskets. Without reading all the other content areas suffer, particularly when a person becomes an adult because "...it is a skill directly related to 85 percent of all adult economic activity" says the book.

But why should the third grade be singled out as the time when most children should read to grade level?

The fact is that from kindergarten through third grade children learn to read. After that they read to learn. Reading well is the key to all other success in life. Every great figure of our time became what they are years after they learned to read in some small classroom somewhere at four through nine years of age.

Wood says that converging research now tells educators that reading problems are preventable in most children. Education now knows what they can do to resolve the problems of low socioeconomic factors, second language barriers and poor environments at home.

Over the years much of the problems with reading have been masked by other things. One of those things was using averages from testing and evaluations. The problem with averages is that it is not specific to the child who is having problems with reading. If 80 percent of the class is reading well, an Johnny is three grade levels behind an average takes away his individuality and therefore the opportunity to correct the problem.

And to prove what that opportunity missed can mean all one has to do is to look at the criminal element in society. According to the book 49 percent of the adult prison population read at ninth grade level or below.

So how can this problem be dealt with?

"It is essential that parents become involved in their kids education," says Carbon Superintendent David Armstrong. "Education is an investment. We as educators and parents are in the same business together, to provide an educational legacy for our children."

Parents who are in the habit of reading to their children from the time they are born until they are through elementary school can make the job of achieving a 90 percent reading level much easier. Research shows that children that come from a literary rich household succeed much easier at reading than those who don't.

But according to research the true key to getting kids to read well is to make sure educators know where they are at in reading skills at all times. Clear and measurable goals in reading are important, and when those goals are not attained the right interventions to bring those reading levels up must be used.

The America at Risk report put an emphasis on grades instead of learning, so for the last 20 years that is what many schools and programs have concentrated on. Catching students up has been an emphasis, but that hasn't worked well at times.

"We just find that there are so many children that are so far behind when they start school," says Armstrong. "There is a myth out there about being able to catch up. It takes an inordinate amount of time and effort to do that."

Reading, really is, fundamental.

Editors note: This is the third in a series of five stories concerning testing, academics, goals and outcomes in Utah schools in general and in the Carbon School District in particular.



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