Academic journal article Rural Educator

Meeting the Needs of Struggling Readers in High School: What Are Rural Schools Doing?

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Meeting the Needs of Struggling Readers in High School: What Are Rural Schools Doing?

Article excerpt

Implementing effective reading programs to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) represents an immense challenge for all high schools, but the challenges for rural high schools may be particularly acute. Rural schools have large concentrations of children living in poverty, greater per-pupil costs and low fiscal capacity, all of which can make meeting the reading demands of NCLB difficult. The purpose of this article is to report the results of research that examined the question of what rural high schools are doing to meet the needs of their struggling readers. The results of focus groups from a rural high school in the southeastern United States and a state-wide survey of rural high schools also in the southeastern United States are reported. The implications of these findings for future practice in rural high schools are discussed.


Implementing effective reading instruction at the secondary level represents an immense challenge. On any given day reports showing that high percentages of high school students fail to meet even basic standards on high stakes tests of reading achievement are likely to appear in the broadcast and paper press. Annual yearly progress (AYP) as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a determining factor for school funding as well as a public indicator of school success.

There is no shortage of suggestions from educational think tanks and interest groups telling high schools what they need to do to improve (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; National Governors Association, 2005; The National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2005). With almost uncanny unanimity, these reports call for high schools to adopt research-based practices in the teaching of reading, engage in continual assessment of student reading performance, and provide extensive on-going professional development for teachers and staff to create a school-wide culture of literacy.

The problem of meeting school reform initiatives such as NCLB may be particularly acute in rural high schools (Chance, 1993). Indeed, rural schools in many locations have large concentrations of poor children who are more likely to struggle with academics (Jimerson, 2005). Many rural schools are also in financial distress (Jimerson, 2005) giving administrators limited means to mount and maintain the school improvement process. Greater per-pupil-costs and low fiscal capacity can result in less money to pay for instructional assessment materials, attract quality teachers, and provide necessary faculty professional development (Harmon, 2007; Stephens, 1998). This lack of fiscal resources could result in the inability to implement the scientifically-based practices being recommended to improve student performance in reading. Also problematic in rural schools is that an inability to attract highly qualified content teachers due to lower competitive salaries and benefits can result in higher numbers of teachers teaching outside their area of expertise (Harmon, 2007). Teachers teaching outside of their area of expertise may be overly dependent on textbooks, resulting in greater reading demands on students and the need for more reading supports. Finally, the lack of fiscal resources in schools that are smaller physically could result in less space for special reading classes and specialized reading materials. Clearly, rural high schools may be at significant risk in meeting the reading demands of NCLB. Thus, it is important to find out how rural schools are faring in their efforts to meet increased societal demands for improved reading performance.

It was with this concern in mind that we conducted two studies: a series of focus groups with students, parents and educators at a rural high school in the southeastern United States and an email survey of high school principals in a Southeastern state. The focus groups were aimed at clarifying the challenges rural high schools currently face in meeting the needs of struggling readers in high school. …

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