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February 28, 2007
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National Association of Secondary School Principals2005
National Association of State Boards of EducationOctober 2005
There are plenty of sound materials for teaching young children to read, but not many for instructing adolescents to do the same. Alas, these two new publications, aimed specifically at the problem of adolescent literacy, don't much help. Creating a Culture of Literacy is more of the same, tired whole-language rhetoric (successful literacy programs use "motivation," "self-directed learning," and "effective instructional principles embedded in content" to raise achievement). And despite its frequent invocation of the word "data," the report is seriously lacking in numbers to back up its claims. Of the five school-success profiles it offers, just one (J.E.B. Stuart High School in Virginia) references specific data to support its assertion that the adopted reading literacy curriculum had a positive impact. The study cites that school's overall improvement on the Virginia Standards of Learning Tests - passing rates in Reading and Literature jumped from 64 to 94 percent between 1998 and 2004. But these gains are suspect because most schools in Virginia have shown similar gains on state tests. Reading at Risk values phonics-based reading instruction, but its primary focus is influencing state leaders by encouraging them to set high literacy goals, paying for teacher training, and requiring districts to adopt only research-based literacy strategies, not discussing what does and doesn't work in the classroom. The report does reference both the Just Read, Florida! and the Alabama Reading Initiative programs, but details of these programs' successes with adolescents are lacking. Still, for those interested in influencing state leaders to set a sound policy course on secondary-school reading, this one is worth perusing.