In a group of 40 students entering the ninth grade in Charleston County, about eight of them were unable to read beyond the fourth-grade level in 2009. This year, roughly five would be in that fix.
That’s a solid improvement in the most essential task for public education. Clearly, there’s more to be done, but the school district and the board are on the correct track in focusing on reading skills.
Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who initiated the district’s literacy program, is right to be pleased. She is also right to say more progress is necessary — in math as well as reading.
Charleston County students who lack reading skills are not alone. State Education Superintendent Mick Zais is so concerned that he has asked the Legislature to mandate that no child be promoted to the fourth grade until he can read at a third-grade level, at least.
Perhaps CCSD’s reading initiative can serve as an example for other districts to help accomplish that goal.
The specifics of the district’s reading program have changed to meet students’ needs over the last four years. Initially Dr. McGinley created literacy academies to give additional instruction to primary and sixth graders who were struggling.
Efforts being made in the sixth grade were enjoying success, so they were expanded to include seventh and eighth graders also.
And as those students get to high school, they will have had the advantage of literacy efforts all along the way.
But this early success doesn’t suggest the district has arrived where it needs to be, and Dr. McGinley and her staff are looking for other answers. For example, all middle school teachers now must be certified in reading instruction.
Some make the point that nearly half of this year’s freshmen who read at or below a fourth-grade level are either special needs students or among the growing number of students whose primary language is not English.
Indeed, those students present challenges to teachers. But it is just as important for them to learn to read as it is for their classmates. The district should pursue efforts on their behalf with the same vigor that it has for traditional students.
Dr. McGinley and her staff and teachers are blamed when things go poorly. They should be credited when things go well.
A five-year low for the rate of ninth graders reading at a fourth-grade level or below is worthy of praise.
And we shouldn’t forget to give a pat on the back to those hard-working students who are improving their reading skills as part of the district’s enhanced literacy initiative.