We need new solutions to improve reading

art by Moy Zhong

The Conference Board of Canada identified reading as a fundamental employability skill for all individuals. The Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Social Studies and English Coordinator Nick Kremer said, however, that the reading comprehension level for CPS students is at a low rate.

To address this, some district members have proposed a system in which the district forces students who lack proficiency in reading comprehension to take an additional reading class while restricting their selection of elective classes until improvement is seen. While this effort may appear to be beneficial, it will only backfire and cause the student more harm.

The process of measuring the literacy success of students occurs through statewide English exams at the end of third to eighth grade, and an English end-of-course exam at the end of tenth grade, as well as the STAR Reading exam and ACT scores. These tests measure student proficiency on the state’s reading standards.  

It is true that reading is a fundamental skill needed to be successful in the world today, with contracts and fine print littered everywhere, from one’s workplace to one’s home. Adding these classes, however, are not guaranteed to improve the rate and comprehension of reading for students, and the potential to damage the future of students is quietly present.

For students, high school represents the last four years of schooling before entering either the workforce or college, and doubles as a time to explore future career options. As most of these interests are promoted through elective classes, restricting a student’s options in high school inevitably restricts the opportunity to traverse new subjects.

Additionally, students who do not express proficiency may show that deficiency because of a lack of interest in their schoolwork. The National Academic Press reported that nearly 40 percent of students are disengaged from school. The solution to this problem is, according to the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University, is the direct involvement of teachers and parents to improve learning patterns of students by not rushing through curriculum and improving communication between teachers, parents and students, not the addition of another class.

By forcing a student to sit through 90 more minutes of teaching, possibly a chunk of time that they despise, schools may further discourage pupils from presenting effort or interest into their work. Especially if a students cannot take an elective class that greatly interested them, a restrictive schedule could damage their future academic path.

Furthermore, many students who have less than proficient reading levels have a learning disability — the National Center for Learning Disabilities reported in 2014 that 2.4 million American public school students have some sort of learning disability. Reading is a skill that does not come naturally to these students, and is often continuously worked on throughout their lives. One class will not help the rates of these students increase to the expected level.

If the district added students to an additional reading class, the social and emotional ramifications could be detrimental. They would be ostracized as their difficulty of reading would be made public, and labels such as stupid, idiot and incapable become attached to their names. They may become victims of bullying and experience drops in self-esteem.

There are several reasons for a student to lack proficient reading comprehension skills, whether it be because of a disability or a lack of interest. Of course, it is resoundingly important to read if one can, and it is the responsibility of schools to prepare their students for the future. But it is unfair to a student to force them into a class they consider to be unenjoyable, and place them into a social gauntlet with intense, potentially lifelong ramifications. Allow students to take the classes that please them without judgment or the fear that they may lag behind in the workplace, fostering an environment to help them grow and succeed as a student.

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