Literacy Early: Literacy and College & Career Readiness

In the latest issue of American Prospect , Sara Mead reminds us that being prepared for college and career starts early in a child’s educational life:

The road to college and career readiness – or dropping out of high school – begins long before students enter high school.  In fact, the roots of the dropout crisis can be traced back to those fourth-grade NAEP scores – and the high number of youngsters who are not learning to read well by the end of third grade.

Why focus on early literacy?  Because whether children can read well by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of how they are likely to do in the future – in school, at work, and as parents and citizens.  The facts are sobering.  Children who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade are unlikely ever to read at grade level.  These youngsters are at high risk for later school failure and behavioral problems, for dropping out of high school, and for a host of negative life outcomes once they reach adulthood.  For example, poor reading skills in the early elementary grades are highly correlated with later delinquency.  According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 38 percent of all youth in juvenile detention read below the fourth grade level.

Mead goes on to argue for a range of solutions, what she labels as rungs in the educational ladder, including increased focus on quality pre-K programs and skilled early childhood teachers.  Each missing rung makes climbing the ladder to literacy that much harder.  Her assessment is well worth reading.

Mead’s point is well-taken.  Students who fail to learn to read by fourth-grade are bound to struggle with the increased literacy and informational demands of each grade.  In fact, if we think of college and career readiness as a higher point in a trajectory, then where a student falls at even an early age is critical.  The recently released Commore Core Standards Initiative proposes a ‘stretch band’ of text complexity, a range that puts students firmly on a trajectory of college and career readiness:

Grade Band “Stretch Lexile Band”

K-1                  N/A

2-3                  450L-790L

4-5                  770L-980L

6-8                  955L-1155L

9-10                1080L-1305L

11-CCR            1215L-1355L

We’re in agreement with Mead (and many others) and believe the parth to college and career readiness starts at an early age.  And one of the best ways to ensure that a student is on the right path is by focusing on both text complexity and the increasing text demand of each grade, as well as the student’s growth.  And for more information on text complexity and its significance to a child’s reading growth, be sure to check out Appendix A of the Commore Core Standards .

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