1. Do you disagree that the state’s functionally illiterate adults struggle when they navigate life’s basic requirements, such as filling out a job description, helping their children with homework or reading the fine print on bank documents?
2. Do you believe that being functionally illiterate isn’t a calamity as long as you have other skills — craftsmanship or leadership, for instance — that will overshadow most illiteracy related problems an adult encounters along the way?
Let’s give Alabama’s illiteracy problem a name; let’s call it a plague that damages our state, hampers its residents and affects everything from earning potential to job creation to crime rates. Reading isn’t breathing. But it is a building block on which everything in education and countless tasks in modern life are built.
If you can’t read well — or at least to your appropriate age level — life can be a difficult mess.
Today, we bring up these points because of a report released last week that not only told us what we already knew — that too many Alabama students and adults don’t read well — but also what we didn’t. A report from the Alliance for Education said more than 60 percent of U.S. 12th-grade students leave school without the ability to read or write well enough for their college and adult years.
That’s a terrible statistic.
Here is where we usually gird ourselves for what often seems the inevitable “Alabama is among the worst …” part of these reports. Truth hurts. As expected, the report highlighted the 25 percent of America’s eighth-graders who do not have grade-level reading skills — and Alabama, despite its recent march toward improvement, rates worse than the national level.
In Alabama, alliance data say, 31 percent of eighth-graders can’t read at or above their grade level.
Here, also, is where context is invaluable.
Wrong it would be to say that Alabama educators or lawmakers haven’t tried to douse the fire that is reading deficiency. Atop those efforts is the Alabama Reading Initiative, a remnant of the Gov. Bob Riley era widely considered a model program for boosting the abilities of Alabama’s young students. (Protecting its funding was one of the many critical issues of this year’s legislative session.) We shudder to think where the reading proficiency of some of Alabama’s lowest-scoring elementary schools would rank without that initiative.
Additionally, Alabama is one of the 46 states now adhering to the common-core standards in English arts. Those advancements are what give us hope that Alabama’s days as a bottom-feeder on the United States’ rankings of public education are ending.
This mixed bag of information produces Alabama’s obvious dilemma. Too many of its adults can’t read, and too many of its students don’t read well enough, either. Granted, reading initiatives help, but they’re not instant solutions.
Alabama’s headlines are dominated by weak budgets and immigration laws and partisan bickering in Montgomery. It’s a mistake not to consider lax reading skills among the state’s top concerns.