Reading Difficulties Are a Problem We All Need to Address

special to the Business Journal

If you are reading this, you are “privileged.” Most of us take reading for granted and expect that, in this information-driven world, everyone can read. Unfortunately, that’s not true. In fact, an alarming number of children and adults are deficient in this skill, which leaves them with a deficit in many areas.  Dr. G. Reid Lyon, Chief of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, told a Congressional Subcommittee in 2001 that, “the development of reading skills serves as THE major foundational academic ability for all school-based learning.”

Fail to read, fail to learn, and fail to have a chance or a good job. It’s a cycle.

How Big a Problem?

Since you can read it may be incumbent on you to become informed about reading, the scope of the problem and what can be done about this social issue that is also a significant business issue.

In 2000, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that nearly 40 percent of the nation’s fourth graders were not reading at basic grade level. In the poorest schools, nearly 70 percent of the students fail the NAEP test. In San Diego County about 143,000 school-age kids are reading below grade level.

What makes it an even more pressing issue is the scope of the problem among adults. According to the San Diego Public Library Website, “approximately 422,000 adults cannot read and write well enough to meet everyday needs and pursue professional goals. In California, approximately 5.9 million functionally illiterate adults must compensate for their lack of reading skills.”

This is a social issue with enormous public finance and business consequences. According to Dr. Lyon’s testimony, “Of the 10 to 15 percent of children who will eventually drop out of school, over 75 percent will report difficulties learning to read.”

Without options available to those who have completed school, these children are likely to find their way into the criminal justice system. Dr. Lyon continued, “Surveys of adolescents and young adults with criminal records indicate that at least half have reading difficulties, and in some states the size of prisons a decade in the future is predicted by fourth grade reading failure rates.”

What Works?

What works to bring reading levels back up to grade level or, for adults, to a level where they are able to hold a good job?

Dr. Lyon asserts the most effective programs are, “intervention programs that provided systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies.”

What Can be Done?

There are many organizations making literacy efforts in the San Diego region – notably the San Diego Council on Literacy, READ/San Diego, California Literacy and Rolling Readers, among others. These groups exist because the problem is so pressing.

One thing we can all do is to encourage and, in whatever way possible, support these important programs. It is vital that the people who have need for reading remediation have access to it, whether within the schools for school-age children, or through community-based organizations and private entities.

Tips for Parents

As a parent, how can you help your child develop the skills he or she needs? We recommend you embark on an education of your own – learning what your child needs to know with respect to reading skills.

  1. Talk to the teacher. Ask how you can encourage and augment the learning that is being done in school.
  2. Visit the school and the classroom. Spend a day in the classroom, if you can, observing what is taught and how.
  3. Look at the homework each night. You don’t need to do the homework, but it is important you see it. Is it at the right level? Too easy? Too hard? Can you see the progress that is being made? Whenever you can, encourage your child’s work with very specific praise. It is best to say things like, “I really liked the detail in this sentence,” or “Your handwriting looks good here.” And, it should go without saying, be firm about allowing time for it to be done.
  4. Understand the state standards, assessment tests and local school evaluations. It helps to understand how your child will be evaluated.
  5. Make it real and make it fun. Rent movies that deal with study themes, such as Rome or Egypt. Take trips to museums to dovetail with studies.

Help your child read and you will provide him or her with the “keys” to open up the world!

Alex Urbano is President of UROK Learning Institute, Inc., a San Diego-based company with a highly effective, research-based, reading intervention program.

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