It’s clear that literacy is important to America’s future, however, it’s also clear that we should begin to worry about what is to come if literacy scores in the U.S. continues to decrease.
Both the SAT and ACT scores in 2012 show poor reading levels. The SAT showed an average score that was one point lower than last year’s, and the lowest since 1972 (Layton and Brown 1-2). According to college readiness benchmarks in the SAT, only 49% of test takers were ready for critical reading at the college level (College Board 24). Only 57% of grads who took the ACT met their benchmark for reading scores, which is much the same result as last year’s tests; in fact, the average composite score for the ACT hasn’t shown much change at all in either direction since 2008 (ACT, Inc. 1,16). The reason these particular tests are important in evaluating high school graduates is because they’re one of the most important evaluation tools a college uses to determine whether an applicant should be admitted. As such, the tests are widely recognized by colleges as trustworthy in determining whether or not a student is ready for college-level work.
Though these poor results are measurable in the late teens, they find their root in early childhood. A report entitled Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, which came out in 1998, listed some issues of that time that America is still facing in regards to teaching our young children. They point out first that a large number of our young students have difficulty learning to read, and that this is particularly true for low-income, non-white, or non-English speaking children. These issues are exacerbated by the increasing levels of learning disabilities observed among students today, many of which are directly associated with difficulty learning to read (dyslexia, e.g.). In addition, federal responses to these issues, including investments and programs, often don’t reflect current research regarding reading development and young childhood (Snow, Burns, and Griffin 17-18).
The most basic literacy skills might be sufficient for a workforce that still resembled the industrial era, but tomorrow’s workforce will need more than the ability to read a sign or a menu. Tomorrow’s workers will be expected to collaborate online with individuals who could be on the other side of the globe, adapt to new requirements and learn new skills as fields rapidly shift and change, and keep up with an increasingly hyper-connected world, not to mention graduate from high school and earn a certificate or degree.
We must make literacy a priority in our schools, homes, and community. We need more out-of-school resources for the students who don’t get their needs met during the school day. We need more parents reading and speaking to their children from the day they are born. We need the community to step in and provide free learning opportunities in order to give underprivileged students the same learning opportunities as their more affluent peers.
We all can make a a difference. Sign up to read to young children at the library, donate books to a school, mentor a child, or start a summer learning initiative.