On Nov. 1, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the 2011 reading scores for fourth and eighth-graders.
The results: Roughly two-thirds of students are not proficient in reading. Scoring at the basic and below basic levels, these students can’t interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in context, locate relevant information, make simple inferences or use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a particular interpretation or conclusion.
Especially in our current economy, students must not only learn to read but also read to learn. Without strong reading skills, our children cannot reach their full potential or pursue their dreams. Ultimately, this impacts our economic prosperity and national health. Low academic achievement causes financial instability for families, contributes to a drain on social services, leads to a workforce unable to fill high-skill jobs and results in a smaller tax base.
In turn, the cycle then repeats itself: Of the 93 million adults in the U.S. functioning at or below basic levels of literacy, 30 million are the parents or primary caregivers of children under age 9. The multigenerational impact is illustrated in the recent NAEP scores.
But let’s not be discouraged. Instead, let’s first recognize the innovative ideas that organizations, teachers, parents and students themselves are implementing every day to help raise reading proficiency levels – and encourage more of it. Teachers, parents and policymakers must work together to build an ecosystem for learning – one that relies less on quick-fix fads of the moment and more on building a sustainable educational environment for multiple generations.
Better scores start at home: A thriving ecosystem must revolve around its most longstanding component – the family – as the best way to nurture success. We often don’t talk enough about the importance of getting our children excited about learning on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, the NAEP scores show children who read for fun almost every day scored significantly higher than their peers who did not.
However, our nation can’t rely on testing or any other single intervention as the silver bullet. Let’s remove the adult philosophy that focuses solely on test scores and instead focus on developing a love for learning by presenting children with subjects that they’re interested in learning about.
Wonderopolis.org is a great example of a resource that helps to encourage learning through reading. Instead of focusing on literacy for literacy’s sake, Wonderopolis develops an ongoing sense of wonder to instill a lifelong love for learning. Through the site, a student, family or teacher can access a “Wonder of the Day” each and every day – for free. Not only will they learn intriguing facts, but they’ll also be exposed to new vocabulary and can interact through popular social media tools with someone who encourages their passion for learning.
There are so many resources like Wonderopolis available to parents looking for ways to stimulate learning at home with their children. Even a few minutes a day engaging in reading together and other activities that build a passion for learning will make a huge difference. These activities can also help parents build their literacy skills and better support their children’s formal education.
A child can advance rapidly when they have the motivation and support of teachers, family and community. To change the reading scores on the Nation’s Report Card, we need to step away from statistics and bring solutions back to the roots of learning inside the home so that the children we love are exposed to the opportunities they need to explore and grow intellectually. Then, together, we can generate a huge uptick in these numbers and reverse national illiteracy rates.
Emily Kirkpatrick is the vice president of the National Center for Family Literacy.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.