Read to Close the Achievement Gap

by Adaeze Okoli, age 16

In 2006, 49 percent of Wisconsin’s African-American seniors graduated from high school. That figure is 32 percentage points below the state average for all students. Numbers like those are saddening and make me realize that the achievement gap is still very wide, and a lot of work needs to be done. However much work there is to do on a national or state level, but to many of us, this is a personal thing. Each of us must possess a desire to not be a statistic. We should set the precedent.

One way we can all contribute to closing the achievement gap is to create a culture of reading among our friends, families and classmates.

Statistics prove that through reading young people can sharpen academic skills and move ahead in school.
Forty years ago, a high school diploma qualified you to acquire 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, being educated will be 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 of various grades on reading and math. In 2007, 60 percent of African-American eighth graders in Wisconsin scored below the basic proficiency reading level. This compares to the 18 percent of white eighth graders who scored below basic reading levels.

These figures, of course, have ramifications. Those that exist now will 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.

Originally published in Fall Special Issue 2010

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