Reading Prerequisites

At the beginning of a college semester, my professor opened the calculus class stating *loosely paraphrased* that the greatest struggles students have with calculus isn’t the calculus material, it’s their poor algebra and geometry comprehension. And this was a truth that I heard over and over at the beginning of various courses—with respect to the subject at hand. If your French grammar and comprehension was too weak, it would be hard to keep up with the reading assignments in 18th Century French Literature. This is why there are course prerequisites…but what if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts all of your future studies? What if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts every aspect of your life? What if you don’t know how to read? This month, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, speak on two different occasions, bringing light to both the challenges youth are faced with and the efforts to reduce the academic inequity. This campaign focuses on the 3rd grade reading level and the achievement gap that results from the “summer slide.” He presented this video, which illustrates the likelihood that the income bracket children are born into impacts their academic attainment. Based on two fictional characters, this video illustrates non-fictional statistics related to literacy. One statistic highlights “that by the time they reach kindergarten, Jamie [low income child] will have already have fallen behind Jordan in language and pre-reading skills by 12-14 months.” Further, the low-income student loses months of learning during the summers between school years (“summer slide”) and 80% of low-income students cannot read by the end of third grade.

There are efforts to reduce the academic inequity with respect to literacy. This video is a news report of “Horizons,” a summer program that helps reduce the summer slide. This program mirrors a summer camp, with engaging, academic activities in the morning and physical recreation such as swimming in the afternoon, giving low-income students the opportunity to continue learning during the summer so they don’t end up further behind.

Sarasota County’s FCAT passing rate for 3rd grade reading is higher than the Florida’s passing rate, but still leaves room for improvement. In 2014, 71% of 3rd graders in Sarasota County passed the FCAT and 57% of 3rd graders in Florida passed. Recently, a program has been developed in our own county to close the academic gaps. Alta Vista Elementary School’s Eagle Academy fosters the growth of both parents and students. This year the Eagle Academy will offer a summer academic program for students entering kindergarten and first grade that focuses on “reading, language development, mathematics, the arts, and social and emotional skills” as well as afternoon recreational activities. Further, parents have the opportunity to go to “Parent University” and a certified nursing assistant program.

Imagine all the barriers you would face if you could not read at the third grade level. This video, Is America Dreaming, looks at the issue of social mobility in the United States based on the percent chance a person will end up in various income brackets based on the income bracket they were born into. One clip shows the benefits of going to college--but what chance do you have to succeed in college if you don’t even know how to read. The inability to read at the third grade level creates a barrier that has the potential to hugely impact how you are able to interact with the greater society, from academia to socializing to reading signs to learning more information.

Illiteracy is an issue we must address in order to be a country that honestly offers an equal opportunity to attain a decent standard of living. It’s important to assist those who have already slipped through the gaps, those who are already past the third grade but still cannot read at the third grade level. Simultaneously, we must ensure that this is not a problem for our future generations. It is time for us to be both reactive and proactive.