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The state of US literacy

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014 11:55 AM

Literacy development is one of the main focuses of U.S. education as a result of the Common Core State Standards. Teachers must apply literacy education in all subjects, not just English, in order to help students leave K-12 schooling with a solid grasp of language and writing. However, literacy hasn't always been such a huge part of learning in America, and even with the Common Core, standardized tests seem to indicate that fewer students excel in the subject. With such news, it may be pertinent to take a step back to fully analyze the current state of literacy education in the U.S.

Reading skills over time
Students develop their reading, communicating and writing skills gradually, building upon their knowledge base. Young children must first learn the alphabet, and those graduating from high school should be able to analyze more complex texts. You must look at cross sections of students at different periods in their education in order to gauge how well kids in school now have learned literacy knowledge as compared to past generations. 

According to a report by the Future of Children, the literacy of students in the U.S. hasn't changed much in the last 40 years. The report sites the findings of the National Center for Educational Statistics, which assessed literacy abilities in kids who were ages 9, 13 and 17. The data includes information from the years 1971 through 2008. While students showed peaks and valleys in literacy learning over time, the overall scores didn't fluctuate very much (a range of about 10 percentage points). However, the data did show that about 10 percent of 17-year-olds have a reading competency level lower than that of some 9-year-olds. 

Time for improvement
Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show that students haven't made gains in literacy. In fact, the 2013 results showed little difference from 2011 scores. Is it just that U.S. students have achieved such a high standard for literacy that they can no longer improve? Unfortunately, that's likely not the case. The Future of Children report noted that a vast amount of junior high students graduate without the literacy skills they need for high school, college and beyond. Furthermore, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), U.S. students only rate average in literacy skills compared to students globally.

Such findings have led legislators and educators to seek ways to improve student reading. For this reason, the Common Core State Standards focus heavily on promoting literacy in education.