The Stiff Penalties of Illiteracy

Here’s David Fowler making a good case for the importance of reading ability in the post-secondary world.  Fowler worries that voters may sometimes lack the literacy skills to be aware of what exactly they’re voting for or against:

After explaining that the reading of Amendment 8 was one of those tricky ones that you had to read closely, we laughed about their error. Yet, I began to think about this as a larger concern for our community. How many others who voted faced the same dilemma? Was it that they simply did not read it, or more importantly, that they did not comprehend the paragraph as written?

As Fowler explains, Amendment 8 is written at a Lexile level of 1340L – at about the same level as a university textbook.  Given that 45% of the citizens in Fowler’s county have only a high school diploma or less, Fowler worries that many of the voters may have simply lacked the basic literacy skills to comprehend what they were reading.

His point is worth considering.  Over the last fifty years, the text complexity levels of college and career materials have continued to rise, while the complexity levels of many secondary textbooks have declined.  If students are graduating accustomed to reading texts around 1100L, they face obvious challenges when confronted with texts, in the post-secondary world, that are significantly higher than what they have been reading. 

In an increasingly global environment, this alarming lack of preparedness translates into reduced educational, social and economic opportunities – not the least of which is the inability to comprehend ballot measures and the language of the voting booth.

Preparing Students for Post-Graduate Success

Students, parents and teachers have been counseled over the years on the importance of ensuring that high school graduates are “college or career ready.”  We’ve written much on the Common Core State Standards, college and career readiness, and the importance of preparing students to face the text demand they are likely to encounter after high school.  The book College and Career Ready by David T. Conley offers more specifics and identifies four key elements that students need in order to be successful in their post-graduate years:

  • Key content knowledge: Conley emphasizes a strong content background in the social sciences, world languages, science, mathematics, and the arts with particularly strong skills in reading and writing.
  • Key cognitive strategies:  This involves students’ ability to undertake challenging learning situations with perseverance. Students are able to use creativity and make conscious decisions that will result in the best possible conclusions.
  • Self-management behaviors: Conley describes a realm of academic behaviors that advance the success of college and career studies. Such behaviors include students’ recognition that a predominant amount of time devoted to learning will be outside of the structured classroom. Time management habits are crucial for a successful college experience.
  • College contextual knowledge: Conley emphasizes the ability of a student navigate through the administrative as well as the curricular processes. Admissions requirements, time lines, college traditions, differing social and cultural backgrounds are only a few of the examples of areas of the college culture that students need to be able to manage in addition to their academic studies.

Dr. Conley’s book offers a plethora of practical suggestions on how parents and teachers can prepare students for the transition from high school to the post-secondary world based upon successful practices, research, and new models. The material is easy to read and the suggestions are manageable and reasonable.  Time reading College and Career Ready would be well-spent.

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