Thursday, February 5, 2009

Our State Report Card

It was reported today that the state of NC ranks 30th in the nation for math and reading proficiency scores.  Apparently, the state lawmakers have a few ideas about how to fix this problem, such as more charter schools, more options for high school students, merit pay for teachers and of course, the omnipresent more testing. While I don't necessarily disagree with these ideas, they seem to be missing the point. According to the National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice, "the seeds of failure are sown early in life; children who do not read by the fourth grade have a very low probability of ever learning to read."  The statistics from the state report cards bear this out. If you compare the reading scores from the 4th and the 8th grade, only four states have scores which go up. Seven states had scores which remained static and 39 states, including North Carolina, have reading proficiency scores which went down. That means that if you can't read well in the 4th grade you are reading even worse by the 8th. What does this mean for our state? According to the state report card only 66.6% of North Carolina students graduate from high school. Have you seen the unemployment rates lately? Not surprisingly, the highest rates are for those who haven't graduated from high school. What does this all mean for education? That first and foremost, we should be focusing our resources on teaching children to read. Teachers need the ability to sit down in small groups, or even one-on-one, to teach decoding skills to our most at risk students.  A student who cannot read is more likely to drop out, be on welfare, and go to prison. When state lawmakers try to increase our state ranking, they should be thinking about real solutions to the underlying problems. Intensive, small group, individualized phonics-based reading instruction works, but at this point it is not widely available in our public schools. Identification of a child's learning style, recognizing the early signs of dyslexia, and the time to immerse children in a language rich environment at school, to make up for a poor one at home, are considered luxuries when they should be necessities.  Instead of applying band-aids which are too little too late, those 4th grade reading scores should take top priority. At our school this means that we allow young children time to play and hear stories and talk and listen to books on tape. They are given reading instruction starting in kindergarten which is fun, low pressure, and targeted to their individual needs.  If they haven't learned to read by the middle of second grade they are given one-on-one tutoring until it is mastered. In this way, no child really IS left behind, and this is an opportunity that every child deserves, not just those that can afford private school or tutoring.

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