Literacy must be statewide focus, report says
Reading has never been a major and consistent focus in South Carolina, and that needs to change, according to a report released today.
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The state hasn't made reading a high-profile policy issue, and officials should create a comprehensive plan for reading instruction to ensure more elementary students are reading on grade level. That's one of the key recommendations from a South Carolina Kids Count report developed in partnership with the state Education Oversight Committee and the state Department of Education.
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"It's always seemed to me like a real oversight that we didn't draw the line in the sand on reading and say, 'Let's start in the beginning and let's make sure all the kids can read well' and see whether everything else falls in place," said Baron Holmes, project director for S.C. Kids Count. "It sounds kind of obvious, and it ought to be."
The publication of the state report coincided with a national release from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters" highlights the importance of grade-level reading by the end of third grade.
Research points to third-grade reading scores as a good predictor of students' later academic success. The National Research Council has shown that a child who isn't at least a modestly skilled reader by the end of third grade is unlikely to graduate from high school. Many say students learn to read through third grade, and they read to learn after that.
"When kids are not reading by fourth grade, they almost certainly get on a glide path to poverty," said Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in a statement. "Poor reading test scores are profoundly disappointing to all of us who see school success and high school graduation as beacons in the battle against inter-generational poverty."
In South Carolina, nearly three out of every four fourth-graders aren't proficient in reading. The figures worsen for low-income fourth-graders, with about six out of every seven being unable to read proficiently, according to 2009 results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. National statistics are only slightly better.
In Charleston County schools, literacy has become the No. 1 priority after a series of Post and Courier stories revealed that nearly 20 percent of this year's freshmen read on a fourth-grade level or worse. But local students' reading problems begin when they are much younger, with more than half of this year's third-graders in more than half of the district's elementary schools reading at a first-grade level or worse, according to analysis from this fall.
The South Carolina Kids Count report includes 10 recommendations to increase early reading proficiency. Most are targeted at educators, policy makers and lawmakers, and some of the proposed solutions include providing literacy training for child care workers and improving family literacy programs.
Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546 or email@example.com.