A New Year's Resolution for 2007: Increase Understanding of Adolescent Literacy to Help Close the Achievement Gap

Article excerpt


2007 is drawing near and the hopeful sounds of New Year's resolutions can be heard across the land. In this space over the past few years, New Year's resolutions have been made concentrating on areas of critical concern in education. I have drawn attention to the need for greater supports for poor and minority children to help them advance in their academic work. I have advocated for cooperation rather than competition in schools, underscored the need for more equitable distribution of school funding, encouraged greater understanding of the most vulnerable children, and described some efforts to close the Achievement Gap.

My New Year's resolution for 2007 calls for greater understanding of adolescent literacy to help narrow the divide in academic progress among students. Increased understanding should lead to programmatic efforts to reduce achievement disparities. Numerous studies of literacy focus attention on the early years but have neglected middle and high school literacy, areas where achievement disparities become more pronounced (Biancarosa and Snow, 2006; Hirsch, 2006).

State and national exams continue to show low achievement levels for many students K-12 with growing disparities by race, ethnicity, and income as students continue in school. As Hirsch (2006, p. 1) points out with alarm, "our students perform relatively worse on international comparisons the longer they stay in our schools." This Achievement Gap is gaining more and more attention with adolescent literacy being recognized as a key variable in reversing the trends in achievement.


The teaching of basic literacy in the early years does not automatically translate into continued fluency and progress in reading comprehension skills in the years after third grade (Berman and Biancarosa, 2005). Since direct reading instruction typically does not continue as students move to higher grades and concentrate on specific academic subjects, low-functioning readers and those with learning disabilities may need additional reading supports (McCombs, et al., 2005).

Adolescent literacy refers to the time period from 4th grade through 12th grade. It is during this time period that students are expected to master increasingly complex and technical materials to prepare them for continued higher education and work. As McCombs, et al. note:

   The data suggests that the leaks in our education pipeline are at
   least partially due to the fact that large numbers of young people
   reach high school without being able to read with sufficient
   fluency and comprehension to do serious academic work. (2005, p. 2)


Bincarosa and Snow (Reading Next, 2006) recommend a number of strategies to improve instruction in programs for middle and high school students. These include:

1. Direct, explicit comprehension instruction

2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content

3. Motivation and self-directed learning

4. Text-based collaborative learning

5. Strategic tutoring

6. Diverse texts

7. Intensive writing

8. A technology component

9. Ongoing formative assessment of students

10. Extended time for literacy

11. Professional development

12. Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs

13. Teacher teams

14. Leadership

15. A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program.

They do not suggest that these 15 elements comprise a comprehensive approach to reading instruction in the middle and adolescent years, but believe that these research-based elements should be explored in various combinations and contexts to produce more effective results with students. …