Reading scores give hope
For years, area employers have lamented the sorry reading and writing skills that all too many job candidates have exhibited. Things appear to be looking up.
A new report shows that Charleston County public school students who have received special reading instruction have made significant improvements in literacy.
It also suggests that the problem isn't just students who have difficulty learning, but that for years the schools have been approaching the problem in the wrong way.
It was after The Post and Courier in 2009 reported on devastating literacy problems in local schools that the Charleston County School Board wisely made it the district's number one priority to address literacy.
Part of Superintendent Nancy McGinley's solution was to institute reading academies for students who needed intensive help.
The results indicate that Dr. McGinley was on the right track: Last fall, 33.2 percent of the 744 students in the First Grade Academy scored in the lowest quartile for readers. After a year's instruction, 10.2 percent did.
Progress was also commendable for the Third and Sixth Grade academies.
And while the drop was not so dramatic for high school freshmen who read at a fourth-grade level or worse (12.9 percent as compared to 14 percent a year ago), it is significantly lower than 2009's 18.1 percent and 2007's 20 percent plus. It is also reasonable to expect that the freshmen group's performance will improve even more when reading academy students enter high school. (See Dr. McGinley's column on today's Commentary page.)
Clearly students who struggle to read will struggle to learn history, write term papers and master science and math. And students who can't do high school work are likely to drop out, flunk out or squeak by and then struggle in whatever jobs they can find.
A healthy local and state economy demands an educated workforce. And it is encouraging that the district is searching for, and finding, ways to fill that need and to give students tools to make their lives more meaningful.
Dr. McGinley's literacy program is working because it is mandatory and has consequences for those enrolled. Students reading below grade level must participate or they will not be allowed to go to the next grade.
It isn't punishment. It's the opposite. Punishment is what the district had been doing: allowing students who couldn't read on a first grade level, to pass to the second grade where they were even more at sea.
The bump in literacy shows what a coordinated effort involving teachers, parents, school administrators and board members can produce. The district's literacy policy tells students that they can, and must, learn to read.