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In the U.S. today, highly developed literacy skills are critical in order to be successful in college, employment, and society.

A great deal of time, effort, and money has been spent in order to improve the reading skills of children in elementary school, with impressive results. In fact, nationwide testing has shown that the basic reading skills of U.S. students in grade four are now among the highest ranking in the world.

However, these impressive results do not continue. By grade eight, basic reading skills decline, and by grade 10, students in the U.S. are among the lowest ranking in the world. It appears that although early, basic reading skills are critical for future success in school and beyond, they are not enough.

Many students arrive at college unprepared for the reading and writing demands that they meet. These students may have basic reading skills but have not developed the critical thinking necessary for the higher level reading in college. Although colleges provide remedial-type college preparation courses, where these lagging skills can be developed, it would be far more beneficial to the student to acquire these skills before entering college.

Some adolescents may steer away from college and continuing their education because of their lack of literacy skills. They may have "just made it through" high school and may not feel they have what it takes to continue their education.

A large number of students now successfully acquire the basic skills of phonemic awareness and decoding by the end of third grade. This is largely due to the new focus on research-based approaches to reading.

There is usually a great deal of emphasis on developing and practicing reading skills from kindergarten to grade 3. During this time, most of the reading required includes words that children know and are about topics they are interested in. They also are usually in a story format.

After grade 3, the requirements change. Reading instruction is not as direct, while at the same time, students are required to read in order to learn new information and new vocabulary. By high school, the amount and complexity of reading materials increases a great deal. Students in middle school and high school need to develop listening, speaking, writing, and critical thinking skills. They need to be able to form conclusions and make judgments.

In addition, the requirements for reading and writing in the current global marketplace are more demanding than ever before. Since new employees often enter the marketplace without the necessary skills, companies currently spend millions of dollars to improve writing skills.

The question is: how can adolescent literacy be improved? Do we have the knowledge available at this time?

A new study by the Carnegie Corp. of New York's Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, called the "Time to Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Readiness," provides an overview of the research in the area of adolescent literacy.

The council looked at five years of research and found that the answers to improving adolescent literacy are available. They gathered knowledge and ideas from experts around the nation on topics from linguistics to the social science of teaching. Along with the main report, there are five other reports that dig deeper into specific topics such out of school programs and reading in the disciplines.

It has been suggested that what is needed is a literacy revolution in order to encourage students to stay in school and to succeed in college and their future careers.

The conclusion of the report was that adolescent literacy can be improved if schools make literacy a top priority, provide professional development in literacy for all teachers in all disciplines, provide opportunities to discuss and examine the progress of students in the programs, and hire teachers who are able teach literacy across the disciplines.

The report was released at an opportune time when the Senate is looking at a bill that would authorize $2.35 billion to be spent annually for five years on literacy instruction for children from birth to grade 12.

School is not the only place where literacy can be the focus. There also are things that parents can do to improve literacy in adolescent children. Continue doing the things that help younger children blossom into readers, such as modeling reading, providing an assortment of reading materials that adolescents enjoy, encouraging daily reading, make reading a part of the family's everyday life, and continuing to read out loud to older children.

In addition, in order to develop critical thinking skills, parents can discuss books from school, as well as books read for fun. In addition, parents can follow up with their child's school to learn more about the literacy program there.

(Pam Krueger, M.Ed., is a freelance writer, academic language therapist and owner of Every 1 Reading tutoring in Bismarck. She can be reached at pam@every1reading.com.)

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