Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Reading Comprehension among African American Graduate Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Reading Comprehension among African American Graduate Students

Article excerpt

Studies in the area of reading ability at the college level have tended to focus on undergraduate students. The few investigations conducted on graduate students have focused either exclusively or at least primarily on White graduate students. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the reading comprehension performance of African American graduate students. Findings revealed that the African American sample attained statistically significantly higher levels of reading comprehension than did a normative sample of undergraduate students. On the other hand, the African American graduate students achieved lower levels of reading comprehension and reading vocabulary than did a comparison sample of White graduate students. Implications are discussed.

Questions of literacy and reading comprehension are at the forefront of debates on educational reform. There are differing viewpoints on exactly what is meant as literacy and comprehension. In its 1991 National Literacy Act, Congress defined literacy as a person's ability to read, to write, and to speak in English, and to compute and to solve problems at levels of competence necessary to function both on the job and in society, to accomplish one's goals, and to realize one's knowledge and potential (Reder, 1998).

Theorists suggest that literacy development often begins in the early stages of childhood. Behaviors such as "reading" from pictures and "writing" with doodles are examples of emergent literacy and are considered important components of children's literacy development (Allington & Cunningham, 1991). Around the age of five years, children enter school and begin receiving formal literacy instruction. Most children at the kindergarten level are considered to be emergent readers (Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999). They continue to make strides in the development of literacy skills if they are exposed to literacy-rich environments (Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999). Because reading and writing are considered thinking processes (Allington & Cunningham, 1991), emergent literacy also must be considered in the context of children's developing cognitive skills. Piaget's theory of cognitive development assists in explaining the cognitive concepts formed by young learners (Wood, 1999). Emergent literacy is considered discovery learning; children have the opportunity to construct their own ideas about literacy while participating in literacy tasks. While students grow and develop from the preoperational stage to the concrete operational stage and into the formal operational stage, so should their abilities to understand and to read more complex information.

Reading comprehension represents the reader's ability to integrate effectively and meaningfully previously acquired knowledge with the information provided in a text (Mason, 1984). According to Conlan (1990), reading comprehension consists of several skills, as opposed to one verbal skill. These skills include understanding the meaning of words and being able to make connections between what one has knowledge of and what one is learning. Regardless of how one defines reading comprehension, one must consider that students utilize a variety of language skills that interact at differing levels of reading ability.

The value of literacy and reading comprehension skills is immeasurable. Individuals who are unable to perform literacy and comprehension tasks find it extremely difficult to navigate through the digital age of the 21st century. Currently, 21% to 23%, or 40 to 44 million, of the 191 million American adults (defined as age 16 or older) are at the lowest literacy benchmark, being either illiterate or functionally illiterate. Individuals are hampered by harsh realities such as poverty, which affects 43% of adults at this literacy level; welfare, where three out of four food stamp recipients in this literacy category exist; and income, where the median income for those at the lowest literacy rate is $240 a week, as opposed to $681 for those at the higher end of the literacy spectrum (Reder, 1998). …

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