The Daily Herald reports that the latest Illinois state test results show a somewhat alarming trend – state reading scores for high school juniors in urban areas are dropping. In the case of the suburbs, scores are flattening. The article asks, “if there is a problem, what to do about it, especially now that we are in the Digital Age?”
That there is a problem seems pretty clear to us. We work with a wide range of educational settings including community colleges and GED programs — places where students go to get a second chance. It is striking just how poor the literacy skills are of some of these students. Many of them begin these programs reading at a 5th or 6th grade level.
It’s always been important for teenagers to interact with their peers. In the Digital Age, they can now do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Technology has become a way to reinforce their interests all the time. Teenagers would rather spend time chatting with friends, shopping online, and watching webcasts using the Internet than reading books. Books are less often perceived as a source of information or entertainment.
Additionally, technology has shortened students’ attention span. They are used to immediate gratification that technology provides. This just makes keeping students’ attention in school and on homework more difficult.
Going forward from here, we have a few suggestions to improve reading skills and test scores:
1) Help students make personal connections to the books they are reading in school. Students need to quickly see the benefits of the books they are reading and how the books affect THEM. Educational technologies such as Book Punch can assist teachers with this task.
2) Stop teaching to the test. Teaching to the test bores students. It teaches students how to memorize facts and answer questions in the format they’ll see on standardized tests. This doesn’t teach them how to work with facts, make interpretations, or develop their own critical thinking skills.
3) Teach core reading skills, at least a little bit, beyond 3rd grade. Currently, in U.S. public schools, it is assumed that students know how to read once they reach upper elementary school levels. This is an unrealistic premise.