Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that basic needs must be met before a person will strongly want or be motivated by higher-level needs. For example, a child must be fed, clothed and supported before he or she will be motivated to learn to read. Poverty negatively affects learning and can also inhibit children's literacy development. In schools, one indicator of poverty is whether a child requires free or reduced breakfast and lunch each day. In Louisiana, 65 percent of students fit this criteria. Therefore, it isn't surprising to find out that 77 percent of fourth-grade students did not read proficiently in Louisiana in 2014.
Why does reading proficiency in elementary school matter?
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between poverty, literacy rates and failure to graduate from high school. Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school. That is about three times greater than the rate for children who do not live in poverty. When students read proficiently by third grade, the poverty cycle may be broken. Children whose literacy development aligns with those of their higher-income peers may go on to raise children who do not grow up in poverty.
What can be done to help students improve literacy development?
Children need to be ready for school when they reach kindergarten age. One of the best predictors of success in improving literacy rates and literacy development is a quality preschool education. Studies also show that when children have access to books over the summer, they do not lose their literacy skills during the summer break. Another way to help improve reading and literacy development is by fostering family support. As Maslow suggested, children who are supported, fed and clothed will come to school ready to learn. Another important factor in improving literacy development is school attendance. Children cannot learn if they are not present. Finally, hiring and evaluating high-quality teachers is a critical component to ensuring that students will reach established reading benchmarks.
How librarians and reading teachers can improve literacy rates
Research demonstrates a clear link between school libraries that are staffed with certified librarians and higher literacy rates. A good school librarian and/or reading teacher may get to know children and help them choose quality literature that is both motivating and helpful for building literacy development. In Louisiana, 160 schools currently have no school library. Teachers in those schools may not have access to enough books that motivate and encourage lifelong literacy. Effective school library programs are critical to making sure students graduate with the skills needed to succeed later in life.
Studies about the importance of third-grade reading proficiency recommend the following guidelines to improve literacy development:
- aligning quality early education programs with the curriculum and standards in the primary grades
- paying better attention to health and developmental needs of young children
- and providing work training and other programs that will help lift families out of poverty.
As Louisiana's literacy rates improve, so will the overall quality of the workforce. Improving reading proficiency in elementary schools and helping families out of poverty are the keys to success.
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