Literacy is the foundation of progress and success in society, but 32 million people in the United States have little to no literacy skills. The literacy definition has been expanded to include many different forms such as computer, cultural, and political literacy, but reading and writing are the basis of all literacy. The ability to read and write provides limitless opportunities, but lacking those skills greatly hinders a person’s potential and prospects. Low literacy has individual consequences such as lower quality of life and societal consequences such as slow economic growth. The State of Georgia greatly contributes to the US’s low literacy rates which are showcased in the state’s educational statistics. In 2011, 30, 751 Georgia students dropped out of high school. Based on a report by Wallet Hub, Georgia is ranked as having the 2nd highest dropout rate in the country. Dropout rates have a direct correlation with low literacy. These negative statistics lead one to believe that Georgia’s education standards are low and/or not effective. The Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) has an obligation to provide curriculums that support literacy growth.
Georgia Education (DeKalb County)
According to the HealthCare Georgia Foundation, “Nearly one-fourth of Georgia adults may be illiterate.” With a current adult population of over 6 million people, that calculates to about 1.5 million adults without the basic ability to read and write. The Journal of Research in Reading argues that a child’s interests in literacy is reflective of his parent’s literacy promotion, but if parents are illiterate then what kind of literacy can be expressed in the household. Essentially, illiterate parents are a catalyst to illiterate children. So what is the GaDOE doing to circumvent the issue?
The implementation of the Georgia Literacy Task Force is one way the state is hoping to improve literacy among children. Programs such as “Birth to 12th Grade,” a comprehensive literacy instruction program for educators, has been implemented to provide students with progressive literacy instruction. Wanda Riley, former English and Language Arts Department Chair at Lithonia Middle School states “The literacy initiative that DeKalb County has adopted this past year has been wonderful in promoting literacy growth. The initiative requires that teachers expose students to reading and writing from multiple genres. Literacy grows when students are able to read not just as a requirement, but for enjoyment.” Although the implemented programs seem to have great value, Riley mentions that, “several students are not at the appropriate literacy level to comprehend the curriculum. They are not at the appropriate level for several reasons, but a few reasons include they have been pushed along when they should have been retained in earlier grades for low performance, a lack of interest in doing well academically, and in general, many of them will not study outside of the confines of school.” From a different perspective elementary school parent, Ladonna Lett, states:
I have to supplement [my child’s] learning. The school doesn’t send home any type of curriculum for parents to have an idea of what’s going on. He doesn’t have a textbook that he can bring home to reference when he does his homework. He will either have a sheet torn out a workbook or handwritten instructions that he copied from the board. I feel like the work he is given in school is not adequate. There appears to be a disconnect between the curriculum he gets during class and the curriculum he is being tested on…I just believe the work he is being given in class is not challenging enough to prepare him for what’s ahead.
So is instruction matching the curriculum? Or is it a budgeting concern? Ms. Lett’s observations would directly correlate with the results of the 2014-2015 GA Milestone. It would seem that teachers aren’t providing proper instruction for students to pass standardized tests or students aren’t interested in learning due to lack of stimulation from home. Academic coach, Latonya Plas states she, “service[s] teachers in terms of assessment data. I look at their data to determine their areas of strength or weakness within what they thought in terms of the standards.” She understands that data provides the solutions to most problems because it shows what was done right and what wasn’t effective. In regards to literacy, the State of GA should look at literacy to data to see where improvements can be made.
How literacy is defined and assessed
Aaron Benavot, author of “Literacy in the 21st century: Toward Dynamic Nexus of Social Relations” describes literacy as a “lifelong process.” He finds that it is more complex than its textbook assessment of being “literate or illiterate”. He suggests to properly assess literacy, testing should be “multidimensional” like the National Assessment of Adult Literacy ( NAAL), a comparative analysis of literacy surveys conducted in 1992 and 2003, created by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). According to the NAAL literacy is defined as, “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
The assessment measures literacy on three different scales; prose literacy, the ability to “search, comprehend and use information from continuous texts” such as editorials and brochures; document literacy, the ability “to search, comprehend, and use information from non-continuous texts” such as maps and food labels; and quantitative literacy, the ability “to identify and perform computations, either alone or sequentially, using numbers embedded in printed materials” such as balancing a checkbook. The assessment of the scales showed four different levels of literacy. Those levels include, “below basic” which is having no literacy skills to less than simple literacy skills to function in society, “basic” which is having simple literacy skills to function in society, “intermediate” which is having the literacy skills to be able to “perform moderately challenging literacy activities,” and “proficient” which is having the literacy skills to be able to “perform more complex and challenging literacy activities.” The results showed that literacy rates, in the United States, haven’t changed much, and in some areas literacy rates have actually decreased. The graph below depicts the country’s literacy rates based on each’s states population.
The graph showcases the need for literacy programs to help alleviate the adult literacy deficiency in our country.
Georgia has many advocacy programs to help increase adult literacy rates such Literacy Action. Literacy Action is a non-profit organization that was started during the civil rights movement. It functions like a college campus where students register, but attend free of charge. Classes are conducted on a 15-week semester schedule. Deputy Director, Kate Boyer, oversees the internal operation of the organization. She explains that some of the programs provided include, “adult basic education going from reading 1 and all the way through GED…In addition, we do provide individuals, who are looking to become US citizens, prep classes to prepare the citizenship exams.”
Literacy Action services over 1,200 Georgians annually with 60% of it students being female. Boyer states, “the majority of our students are reading on a third grade reading level…[meaning] they cannot yet make parallels between stories or draw conclusions, they’re reading for facts.” The organization receives funding from both public and private avenues.
Literacy Action also partners with the DeKalb County Public Library (DCPL) to help provide English as a Second Language (ESOL) courses to the community. Laura Hauser, an 18-year library administrative, states, “for this effort we used volunteers who are most often trained professionals or people like retired CDC staff who traveled the world and have great experience in working with multi-cultural and multi-literacy levels efforts. Some have ESOL degrees or certificates…I would estimate we have 100-120 students we serve each week for 50 weeks per year. Complete literacy isn’t going to happen over night, but with programs such as these Georgia is headed in the right direction.