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Virginia Schools Focus on Literacy Problem

Literacy has always been a problem for school systems throughout the United States. In the past, however, the impact was minimal compared to today’s workplace, which requires an ever-higher level of literacy to achieve success.

Good reading skills are the foundation for students in any subject. You cannot learn mathematics or science without being able to understand the textbooks. Such skills also are demanded in the workplace. Able readers have a better chance to improve their lifestyle over that of their parents by obtaining well-paying jobs in career fields that would otherwise not be available to them. Literacy can make the difference between whether a child drops out of school or graduates from college. It truly is the foundation for a decent life.

Moreover, illiterate or nearly illiterate adults and families put a drain on the commonwealth’s resources. Businesses that cannot employ well-educated, literate workers move their enterprises to other states, where literacy levels for school students are higher; thus, giving businesses access to a larger employee base. Everyone feels the economic impact of a society with a low literacy level.

Currently in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are more than one million adults who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. During the 2004-2005 school year, more than 25,000 adults with a below-ninth-grade English literacy level were enrolled in either the Adult Basic Education classes or the English for Speakers of Other Languages programs within the Virginia schools.

In 2005, approximately 26 percent of third graders in the Virginia schools were unable to show proficiency on the commonwealth’s Standards of Learning (SOL) reading tests and required subsequent remedial instruction. Yet, according to a Virginia schools analysis, approximately 95 percent of students, who pass the third grade SOL reading tests, pass the fifth grade SOL reading tests. This illustrates the importance of Virginia schools children being able to read at grade level by the end of the third grade.

Virginia schools’ president Mark Emblidge announced in June 2006 the formation of a new committee to address the problem, consisting of current Virginia schools board members. Isis Castro will chair the special committee that will work to enhance prekindergarten through adult literacy.

Their focus is to develop strategies that will raise literacy of children, adolescents and adults within the Virginia schools and the commonwealth. The points of this focus are:

• Increase the number of Virginia schools students reading on grade level by the end of the third grade;
• Sustain this literacy, as well as instill a love of reading, as students transition from elementary to middle to high school;
• Help the Limited English Proficient (LEP) students to obtain a good education by improving their literacy skills; and
• Strengthen the literacy programs and policies of the Virginia schools to assist the adult learners.

The first tasks of the committee is to review the proposed revisions to the commonwealth’s Standards for English Language Proficiency, and to review and advise the Virginia schools full board on issues and policy considerations related to the LEP students. Additionally, they will:

• Monitor the effectiveness of the Virginia schools’ efforts toward all student literacy, including the state-level reading programs and initiatives;
• Monitor the adult education programs;
• Review all data associated with literacy in the Virginia schools; and
• Advise on issues and recommend policies to the full board of the Virginia schools.

With the new committee on literacy in place for the upcoming school year, the Virginia schools should begin to see an increase in the student’s levels of reading proficiency.

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more on Virginia schools visit

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