Why can’t Johnny read?

http://www.pandora.ca/pictures16/961359.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Yesterday’s editorial in the News & Record should be a true wake up call.

Our county’s children must learn to read well

Today’s editorial, written by Doug Clark in the wake of our latest One Guilford leadership conference, March 12, at UNCG. We particularly welcome your comments on this very important issue.

Students should not advance through the grades without reading well. More early intervention and better assessments will help children keep up.

A simple, powerful question was asked of panelists during last month’s One Guilford program at UNCG:

Why are children promoted if they can’t read at grade level?

The audience heard Kathy Baker Smith, vice president for educational support services at GTCC, report that nearly 40 percent of the students enrolling directly from Guilford County Schools don’t read above the eighth-grade level.

Smith High School Principal Noah Rogers noted that two-thirds of new students arrive there with less than sixth-grade reading skills.

How does that happen? No satisfactory answer was offered, and maybe there isn’t one.

It’s not a simple question, school board member Nancy Routh said last week. What’s considered “grade level” is determined according to arbitrary standards that vary from test to test. Results often aren’t reliable.

“If I wanted to know if a child could read, I’d sit down and listen to him read,” said Routh, a retired principal.

“The majority of our kids do read, and they are good readers,” she added.

Those who aren’t good readers should get remedial instruction outside normal classroom time in early grades, Routh said. But holding students back a year is the wrong solution.

“There’s no evidence that retaining kids improves their achievement,” she said. “Sometimes they actually regress.”

Another school board member, however, said too many children are promoted without reading well.

“How do they get into middle school?” Garth Hebert asked. “How do they pass the third grade?”

Hebert recalled attending a disciplinary hearing for a 13-year-old sixth-grader who had passed only one subject in his entire school career — a D in a third-grade course.

Students like that often are advanced to avoid bottling them up in already crowded elementary school classrooms, Hebert believes.

That’s possible when students “pass” state reading tests that may be too easy. Guilford County’s 2007 passing rates range from 79 percent for third-graders to 88 percent for eighth-graders. Numbers that high invite skepticism.

Like Routh, Lewis Ferebee believes standardized tests do a poor job of measuring students’ abilities.

An instructional improvement officer for Guilford County Schools, he’s a former principal at Fairview Elementary in High Point.

Assuming that a label of “proficient” on a standardized state test means a child is reading at grade level is “one of the things that has gotten us in trouble,” Ferebee said. “I think that’s an illusion. It’s one way children fall through the gap.”

Ferebee won notice for raising achievement at Fairview by initiating a schoolwide emphasis on reading, including a home reading component.

“The thing about reading is, the more you do it the better you get,” he said. But many children read too little at school and at home, for studies or for pleasure.

Ferebee said schools are putting more emphasis on early intervention with small-group reading instruction and, “if possible, one-on-one support.” He’d also like to see reading “imbedded in all our content areas.”

The system is developing new assessment models to determine “who’s actually reading on grade level and who’s not,” Ferebee said.

Hebert said he’d support an independent reading evaluation of every first-grader, with appropriate responses to correct deficiencies.

Maybe the Routh method would help: Spend enough time with each child to find out how well he or she reads and comprehends, then devise a strategy to meet individual needs.

Solutions like that are expensive, but the cost of failure is higher. At best, it’s paid in providing remedial instruction at GTCC and other colleges and universities. More expensively, it requires trying to teach ninth-graders who can’t read at a sixth-grade level, which invites frustration, discipline problems, drop-outs and too many young people leaving school without the skills they need to gain meaningful employment.

Hebert, an accountant, knows the cost of failure and says too little is being done to prevent it. “We do not invest in remedial reading, we just pretend we do,” he said, adding that more teaching assistants and volunteer tutors are needed.

“We have to do everything we can to teach them,” he said. “If we can’t teach reading, what the flip can we teach?”

More to the point: If students don’t learn to read in elementary school, when will they learn? How will they ever learn anything?

Not reading is not acceptable.

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E.C. )

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