Black and Hispanic high school reading levels
Even in such affluent, high-achieving counties as Montgomery, one in five kids reaches high school reading at a basic level. When broken down by race, the numbers are even more startling, with 42.1 percent of black students and 47.8 percent of Hispanic students reading at only a basic level when they reach high school.
In Fairfax, about 15 percent of students who entered high school last year had difficulty reading. But among black students, 32 percent were not reading well; among Hispanic students, 33 percent were struggling.
Timothy Shanahan, president of the International Reading Association and a professor of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many school systems stop emphasizing formal reading instruction once children leave primary grades. "It's not like a polio vaccine -- a couple of shots when you're a little kid and then you're done," he said.
And often, if older kids are having difficulty reading, their middle and high school teachers lack the training to intervene. "It's a lot easier in grade school to talk about learning to read, but if you're talking about it when you get to high school, then you're acknowledging that we've somehow slipped up," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and a former governor of West Virginia.
Shanahan and others said the key to helping older students is less about the mechanics of reading -- phonics and such -- than about the nuances of reading, that is, teaching students how to understand and explain what they read.
Patricia O'Neill, who represents Bethesda and Chevy Chase on the Montgomery school board, said she fears that if more isn't done to help kids catch up, they will not be able to graduate from high school, noting that statewide tests that students must now take to receive their diplomas include significant amounts of reading and writing.
Wise and others said that unless more is done, school systems will be forced to spend millions on remediation programs. And efforts to close the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts could be stymied.
Black students fail to match progress on statewide tests
Black students are missing the mark