Karen Huppertz: Reading still not a given for every student

We’ve been providing students with public education since the mid-1700s. Back then the literacy rate was on average about 70 percent. There are about as many ways to calculate literacy levels as there are June bugs on my rose bushes, but the sad truth is, some couple of hundred years later, things don’t look much better.

Most of the reporting agencies seem to define functional literacy as being able to read on a seventh to eighth grade level. That’ll get you through the latest paperback novel, instructions to get your Xbox connected and probably enable you to read the side effects for most medications.

Depending on who’s reporting, the U.S. literacy rate could be as high as 97 percent, yet less than 25 percent of American adults can read at the top level. There is a direct correlation between the inability to read fluently and poverty. In Georgia creative manipulation of numbers has reported high school graduation rates anywhere from less than 50 percent to maybe closer to 70 percent. I’ve spoken to a number of parents recently who will tell you their kids have made it through high school without really knowing how to read.

Another Gwinnett parent and I recently spoke to a group of early education students at Georgia Gwinnett College. Our topic included information about the specific reading challenge of dyslexia. We provided this group of students, all of which were already doing classroom observations, with basic clues that might alert them when a student needs extra help learning to read. We talked about ways a teacher might obtain additional training and how they might help parents navigate the school’s process for obtaining help for their child.

These soon to be teachers, were grateful for the information and hungry for more. They were already seeing children falling behind and wanted to help.

We’ve recently learned Gwinnett County plans to use excess education funds over the next few years to transform the classroom electronically by eliminating textbooks and converting learning to digital devices. Nothing wrong with progress, and technology should be an important tool. But I hope our schools will not lose sight of some of the challenges we haven’t mastered yet and will consider a few other ideas.

No amount of technology is going to replace the need to read and understand language. I’d like to suggest insuring our teachers are trained to identify students who are missing these basic skills and then provided with effective forms of remediation.

Georgia’s Gov. Deal has put in place a couple of programs with potential, Reading Instruction Mentors and Race to the Top. Let’s hope these initiatives are more than just rehashing the same old same old. Educators will tell you by third grade students are no longer learning to read, but reading to learn. I suspect, if we can accomplish this task, the others will be much easier to achieve.

Karen Huppertz has lived in Gwinnett County for 13 years. Reach her at karenhuppertz@gmail.com

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