It’s time to double down on middle school reading

It’s time to double down on middle school reading

It’s time to double down on middle school reading

By: Cal Hastings, Senior Director for Middle School Literacy, Generation Ready

Robert Balfanz, the preeminent national scholar on the high school dropout crisis, hits the nail on the head in his June New York Times opinion piece entitled Stop Holding Us Back. Although we should collectively celebrate a national graduation rate that has hit an all-time high of 80 percent, far too many youth–anestimated one third of all African American and Hispanic males – arenot making it. The economic, societal and personal consequences of this outcome are simply unacceptable. As Balfanz points out, the research is clear, youth begin to show the undeniable warning signs as early as sixth grade of dropping out in high school.

I had the privilege to work with Dr. Balfanz in New York City while supporting several middle schools with the implementation of a comprehensive approach to identify and respond to the early warning signs that far too many of our young adolescents in low income communities demonstrate. In one Bronx middle schoolthat had exceptional leadership, the school implemented, deepened and sustained this system over a period of years. This particular school ended up ranking as one of the top performing middle schools in the city, despite serving an unscreened population of students. More importantly are the countless number of youth that the school’s principal, teachers and counselors nudged and nurtured back onto the pathway to academic success.

As the Balfanz research indicates, critical to the success of improving graduation rates for at-risk students is a strong focus on literacy. I would argue that now more than ever, literacy and specifically reading, is the critical challenge we face in ensuring that far greater numbers of our nation’s youth are securely on the pathway to high school, college and career success. With new standards requiring students to read and comprehend more complex informational text than ever before, reading on grade level by the completion of 8th grade is essential. It simply is no longer the case that a student graduating 8th grade reading at a 6th grade level or below has a fighting chance of succeeding in high school. The national data indicates that only a third of adolescents from low income communities are graduating middle school reading on grade level. That figure is unacceptable.

The work I recently led at the New York City Department of Education, the Middle School Quality Initiative, produced promising data on the impact that a research-aligned, comprehensive approach to improving adolescent literacy can yield in terms of both leadership and teacher development, as well as measureable improvements in reading.  Make no mistake, we have a long way to go to reach the goal of all young adolescents graduating 8th grade reading on grade level. However, with a clear and measureable goal, a comprehensive plan, strong district and school level support and excellent partners, steady progress can be made ensuring that even greater numbers of youth leave middle school on the pathway to high school, college and career success. The time is now to double down on middle school reading.



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