Monday, December 15, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Let's get serious about childhood literacy

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

The AIMS graduation requirement has become a political football. Repeatedly, the legislature delayed the implementation of the requirement, and last year, passed "AIMS augmentation" effectively gutting the requirement. An Arizona diploma should mean something. The AIMS exam, after all, is merely a minimal skills test.

The problem, however, is that year after year, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent of Arizona's fourth graders score below "basic" in reading on the Nation's Report Card. Our current system, therefore, routinely socially promotes literally hundreds of thousands of childrendespite the fact that they cannot read. Year after year, these kids somehow receive acceptable marks, and advance on to the next grade.

After years of this charade, the system then presents them with a test and tells them to get on the stick, or else they can't receive a diploma. These children have been set up to fail, not to succeed.

Florida's reform makes a great deal more sense: If you can't read at an appropriate level at the end of the third grade, you repeat it with extra help. Evaluations show that this program has succeeded in improving literacy, and critically at a developmentally appropriate age. The mind is wired to learn to read in the early grades-an ounce of illiteracy prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I believe a graduation exam is desirable, if the state follows Florida's lead and gets serious about early childhood literacy.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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