Read to Close the Achievement Gap
by Adaeze Okoli, age 18
Only about 49 percent of Wisconsin’s African-American seniors graduate from high school. That figure is 32 percentage points below the state average for all students. Numbers like those are saddening. It makes me realize that there is plenty of work to do.
Whatever work there is to do on a national or state level, to many of us this is also a very personal thing. Each of us must avoid becoming a statistic. We should set our own precedents.
One way we can all contribute to closing the achievement gap is to create a culture of reading among our friends and classmates. Statistics prove that through reading young people can sharpen academic skills.
Forty years ago, a high school diploma qualified a person for many well-paying jobs. Far fewer of those jobs exist today. By 2018, 63 percent of the jobs in the American economy will require some form of education past high school. To be prepared for jobs in the future, education is critical.
In Wisconsin universities, 61 percent of white students graduate, while only 32 percent of African American students do. These figures reflect, and are largely determined by, reading proficiency scores.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests students in various grades on reading and math. In 2007, 60 percent of African-American eighth graders in Wisconsin scored below basic proficiency in reading. This compares to the 18 percent of white eighth graders who scored below basic reading levels.
These figures, of course, have ramifications. They will also have dramatic effects in the future. As you might expect, trends show that below basic readers are far less likely to eventually earn college degrees.
Put differently, in order to excel in school and life, you must be able to read well. And no one is born an avid reader, it is practiced. It’s a learned behavior.
It can be difficult to set aside daily reading time, but the results are worth it. Reading books outside of class helps you learn new vocabulary. Simultaneously, you are practicing reading comprehension, which is very useful in school.
Strong reading skills will in turn help you develop strong writing skills. Like reading, writing is something that must be practiced. But in order to excel at it, you must have good examples. Reading provides you with the opportunity to see how authors weave stories, and allows you to emulate those styles. Good writing skills helps you to get good grades.
The important thing about reading is to just do it. One good way to start is to find a book or series that interests you. Once you gain confidence, move on to more challenging material. This will make you a stronger reader, better student, and more prepared for your future.
And besides, once you get good at it, reading is a lot of fun. So get with your friends and start a book club today, then write to me here at the Free Press, we will supply your new club with free books.
[Sources: all4ed.org; Associated Press]