Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pursuing Proficiency

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pursuing Proficiency

Article excerpt

IN THIS job, I have to read--a lot. And it's not all manuscripts submitted to the Kappan, though that does account for a great many hours. I also read newspapers and other online sources of information.

Sometimes an item I read stops me in my tracks, and I put it aside for reflection. One that I set aside last November seems appropriate to bring up in the current issue, which features a set of articles, gathered by Jennifer Borek of the University of Memphis, taking account of the 25th anniversary of the publication of A Nation at Risk. Whatever else that report did, it played a fundamental role in creating what came to be called the standards movement during the last decade or so of the century that just ended.

All of us who read the newspapers know that maintaining high standards means that all students will reach "proficiency." And that brings me to that intriguing item I mentioned above. Here's a brief passage from the Chronicle of Higher Education for November 19 of last year. In "Americans Are Closing the Book on Reading, Study Finds," Jennifer Howard reported on To Read or Not to Read, the widely covered document issued by the National Endowment for the Arts: "Even Americans who have studied at the graduate level saw their reading skills atrophy: 51% were rated proficient readers in 1996, but only 41% made that grade in 2003."

There's that word again: proficiency. The figures cited in the Chronicle article and reported by the National Endowment come from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, but the word has troubled us for a long time. …

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