Notes on Adolescent Literacy in the US

These are just tidbits that might interest you from my readings.  Similar to a previous post on homeschooling, my habit is simply to write the data/quotes that stick out to me.  As a result, readers might not be getting a full picture of the argument of the report or the situation.  BUT maybe it will titillate your interests and cause you to look for yourself!  In this case, you can.  Time to Act: Advancing Adolescent Literacy can be accessed at

Recent data comparing literacy skills in the world shows that US 4th graders rank among the best in the world, 8th graders score much lower, and 10th grade US students score among the lowest in the world (p.1).

Private industries spend up to $3.1 billion/year to boost entry level workers’ writing skills (pp.1-2).

Despite the most gains in reading achievement and narrowing of racial achievement gap for 4th graders in 33 years, these gains seem to dissipate as students move into and through the middle grades (p.8).

Literacy demands change!

Primary grades: read texts of words they already know, about topics that interest them.  Comprehension assessments require students to summarize and retrieve items from the text.  Math tests require applying well-learned procedures.

Secondary grades: expected to learn new words, new facts, and new ideas from reading, interpret, critique, and summarize.  Literacy practices combine literacy skills and content knowledge, and students are expected to know how to do this. Basically, text length, word complexity, sentence complexity, structural complexity, importance of graphics, conceptual challenges, and variance of texts across content areas all increase.) (pp.10-11).

Five essential factors of Reading First

  • improved classroom instruction
  • rigorous assessment
  • carefully designed professional development
  • structured accountability
  • increased (and ongoing) funding

Teacher attrition: about 17% of teachers leave the profession nationally every year (p.20) (I wonder if this is just public schools or includes independent schools too).

3 Myths about teaching (p.20)

  • Great teachers are born that way
  • Great M/HS teachers are nonconformist, solitary genius or lone wolf types
  • Great M/HS teachers need only know a single content area well

At bare minimum, all M/HS teachers should possess a working knowledge of (pp.20-22):

  • How literacy demands change with age/grade
  • How students vary in literacy strengths and needs
  • How given content area texts raise specific literacy challenges
  • How to recognize and address literacy difficulties
  • How to adapt and develop teaching skills over time

It takes literacy coaches upwards of 2 years to build the rapport necessary for stimulating real growth in teachers (p. 27)


  • Use assessment data to inform instruction
  • Budget reflects literacy priorities
  • Principal focuses on student learning and works in partnership with literacy coach
  • Strongest teachers –> greatest needs
  • it’s all about ongoing professional development
  • accelerated learning over remediation(? How does this work?)

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