Reading: 4 Keys to College and Career Readiness

As far back as 1983, the Reagan-commissioned report, “A Nation at Risk,” raised a host of concerns about the state of U.S. education.  Many of those concerns, such as a lack of teacher training, adequate pay, and a need for higher academic standards, still very much remain front and center. A particularly specific insight of the report was the straight line drawn between struggling readers and an eventual lack of readiness for college and the workforce.

Since then, numerous studies have pointed to reading literacy as the most essential tool for success in academics and the world beyond. We know that students who don’t read well by third grade are more likely to feel disenfranchised in school, have low feelings of self-worth, experience early encounters with the juvenile justice system (85 percent of these youths are functionally low-literate) and to eventually drop out of high school. Beyond that, life expectations include lower-paying jobs, poorer health and an unfortunate capacity for passing along the legacy of struggling literacy to their own children.

Throughout the decades since “A Nation at Risk” was first published, education research has focused on a range of areas and practices in seeking solutions to the dilemma of struggling readers. Four areas stand out, not only as keys to reversing the too-often inevitable life trajectory of the at-risk reader, but to equipping them with the college and career readiness skills that have become a national priority.

Early Detection of Disabilities and Gaps

A 2019 study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) notes the central role of early warning systems in heading off reading difficulties. Screening students as young as kindergarten age can not only help flag skill gaps but also alert teachers and parents to possible learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, autism, and ADHD. These early screenings, combined with evidence- and research-based interventions, can come to the aid of learning-disabled students before they begin to believe they’re unable to learn or to suffer other effects that impact them academically and emotionally when symptoms go untreated.  A well-designed technology-based literacy program can screen students, supply them with automated lessons and assessments, provide regular and timely progress reports to teachers, parents and administrators allow a team of caring adults to monitor a child’s progress and help the learner celebrate milestones.

A Personalized Pathway

In “Reading Skills and the Career Readiness Gap: A Study of High School Students’ Preparedness for College and Career,” by the International Center for Leadership in Education, researchers note that “Student learning styles, interests and aptitudes are like fingerprints: no two are the same.” Too often, they say, many students will be only tangentially engaged in instruction and learning when reading certain materials or listening to a teacher give a talk.

A student at a certain reading level will not improve his or her proficiency unless he or she is continually challenged by the text.

In the last several years, great strides have been made in personalizing learning. Due in large part to technology, which has facilitated broad screening and customized learning pathways, educators have gained the ability to provide students with instructional materials at the appropriate level and to continually monitor their progress, despite serving whole classrooms of students. This ensures struggling students are not discouraged by being presented with material beyond their grasp and that students at higher levels can avoid the drudgery of lessons on already-mastered concepts.

Ongoing Reading for Pleasure and Education

In his 2018 piece, “The Hidden Success Factor,” best-selling author, and professional leadership trainer Dr. Alan Zimmerman shares what he’s learned about the correlation of reading to success in the workplace.  He notes, first of all that “Poor reading skills … or a failure to keep on reading … is a set-up for failure,…” citing today’s workplace where constantly advancing technology translates into swift changes that require workers to read well to adapt to changing circumstances. Without this ability, he says, individuals will be “hard pressed” to find good full-time jobs.

Reading, he says, opens up a world of opportunities for those in the workplace. Not only will they be better at their jobs, but they can become self-educated experts in a range of areas, and increase their ability to know about and be prepared for new and different workplace options.

For parents, teachers and other adults, it is worth revisiting the benefits for students of reading for pleasure. Not only are they exposed to new experiences that broaden their world view and build empathy, but it is a chance for them to relax and simply enjoy a book away from screens and the pressures of school and other scheduled activities.

Specific College and Career Skills

Back in 2005, the ACT college entrance exam, designed to be an indicator of college readiness, isolated reading complexity as a critical missing factor after looking at the results of the 1.2 million high school seniors who took the test that year. It found that only 51 percent of students were equipped to handle first-year college course reading requirements.

Since then, the launch of the Common Core State Standards in 2009 has aimed to rectify this shortcoming, with more of a focus on critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills.

Ideally, students are well-prepared in high school, with solid preparation for reading complex texts, understanding implicit messaging and subtle character interactions, demanding vocabulary and other higher-level reading skills.   Even more ideally, students are instructed in and practicing these skills at much earlier grades, even at an elementary level.

Students, especially those with learning disabilities, who have been lucky enough to have had early screenings, personalized reading pathways and acquired a love for reading, as noted in the three keys earlier covered, are likely to have a leg up when it comes to college readiness.

The MindPlay Team