Over the past 10 years, I find myself endlessly ruminating about our educational system’s inability to help students become proficient readers— and my blood boils. Our country manufactures self-driving cars, yet more than  2/3 of US high school seniors are not prepared for college-level coursework.  Various studies illustrate that seniors are reading between the 5th and 8th grade level.  Sadly, only 32% of high school seniors are reading at a 12th grade level. As the percentage of high school graduates attending college continue to increase, only 1/3 of students have been deemed proficient in reading.

One study reveals that the average high school student reads books at 5th-grade-appropriate levels. And according to the US Department of Education, the average American adult (high school through college post-graduate) reads at a 7th or 8th grade level.  So how do deficient reading skills affect college students? Read on.

Deficient reading levels are impacting college students’ learning

College professors are confounded when they find that their students are not able to read for deep understanding, a necessity for college success. Many are not able to process information well enough to analyze concepts for application to new situations. And research has concluded that the single most important predictor of students’ college success is their ability to read a range of complex text with understanding.

Astoundingly, only 54 percent of college graduates do not score at the college literacy level. This correlates with statistics that nearly ½ of all college freshman are not proficient in reading. In fact, studies have revealed that The average first-year college student reads at the 7th grade level.

Many parents realize that their college experience was much different than their children’s learning experience. Their children are working much harder. One reason may be because many of today’s first-year college students need to teach themselves how to critically read so that they can perform well.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, reading proficiency has not changed in over a decade.  And trends in national reading scores are descending. The National ACT documented that both reading and English scores continue to trend downward. So why is there a status-quo when it comes to improving secondary reading skills?

Increasing reading proficiency

I see the solution to this profound issue— Bring back secondary reading! Critical reading is the essential foundational strategy for learning. Decades ago, secondary schools implemented reading classes through 8th grade. They were an instrumental part of the curriculum, along with English, math, science, etc. Then, educators decided to combine both Reading and English into one Language Arts curriculum block. Movies also became a part of the language arts classroom experience, another element to take away from reading instruction.

To illustrate the lopsided language arts curriculum, check out the number of novels that secondary students read within a school-year. Your findings will be shocking, if you don’t already know the answer. The numbers today do not nearly parallel  the numbers decades ago.

Critical reading: the key to success

Up through the late 1980s, I was an 8th-grade middle school teacher (I later ventured to teach at the college level). I had blackboards, not PowerPoints and movies. I taught critical reading skills; I didn’t lecture in detail about a book so that students did not have to read it. I taught vocabulary skills to enrich reading and writing; I didn’t provide vocabulary lists for students to memorize and then forget.

I taught critical reading skills for understanding content text. I taught how to process literature, including classics. Students learned how to independently comprehend both textbooks and novels.

Now, students supplement teachers’ lecture notes with Spark Notes. My clients, 12th grade, 4.0 students struggle to comprehend a high-school-level paragraph independently. Moreover, most of my 4.0 students across the country come from highly acclaimed public and private schools. And sadly, they don’t have a middle school vocabulary-level.

Our present educational culture has generated too many struggling readers. 8th grade students are not prepared for high school reading; high school students aren’t ready for college.

Textbooks: the foundation for conceptual learning and long-term retention

Nowadays, I see that many secondary school educators are using their textbooks for supplementary reading because lectures provide the material that will allow students to pass a test—and attain an A. Teachers’ notes and PowerPoints can provide that 4.0 without reading. So, why have textbooks? Because textbooks provide the foundation for conceptual learning and long-term retention.

Based on students,’ parents,’ and fellow educators’ information, secondary critical reading is not taught. My fellow secondary teachers are also frustrated. They do whatever it takes to teach content information, yet they know that students either can’t read or don’t read. So, they use innovative and creative strategies to get their jobs done, including providing their own notes from the textbook.

And when students are provided with books, their teachers try to find creative ways to use them. For instance, teachers provide study documents for students to complete. Students search for words or phrases, skimming dense textbooks for answers. They are not cognizant that study/review materials are just that— a review. Study materials are supposed to be for reviewing and used as a pretest, so that students can test themselves by writing the answers; then they can reread and review their weak knowledge areas.

And I have come to find that many schools are eliminating textbooks and offering on-line textbook options—and this is the key word: options. Students aren’t required to read them.

My Solution: Bring back middle-school reading programs for all students!

With a combined language arts curriculum that evolved decades ago, followed by the reading decline, teachers are not able to concentrate on English skills, critical reading skills, and a new genre— motion pictures. I have worked with many high school students who watched movies all-year-long, and never touched a novel. If they did, it was only an excerpt.

While educational “experts” continue to search for answers, they need to compare the data from decades ago. Hear me roar—Bring back a secondary reading instruction!

What are your thoughts? Please reach out to me at Cindy@RTSsuccess.com