Opinions

The literacy of Alaska’s children must be addressed

In the midst of debates surrounding current budget cuts and the Alaska Permanent Fund, we are neglecting to address one of Alaska’s most urgent issues: the literacy of our children.

According to the 2018 Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools, or PEAKS assessment, 58% of Alaska fourth graders in public schools are below or severely below proficient literacy levels.

Alaska’s literacy results on the national level are even more disheartening. According to the results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, Alaska fourth graders are ranked dead last in the nation in the reading category.

As an avid reader myself, these results are particularly disappointing. As a child, the ability to read allowed me to explore the lands of Narnia and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and traveled the world in a Magic Tree House. The thought of Alaska children being deprived of this opportunity is devastating.

The good news is that there is a solution. Alaska is not the only state to have experienced critically low reading scores. From 1992–2002, Florida’s fourth graders scored below the national average on the NAEP reading assessments. In 2002, Florida implemented rigorous policy changes that dramatically improved its reading programs. Florida’s fourth graders are now ranked fourth overall in the nation in reading.

The obvious success of Florida’s early reading initiatives and changes in education policy have not been overlooked by other states. By 2018, 35 states had adopted early literacy initiatives, with each seeing improvement in their young students’ reading abilities. States that modeled their new initiatives to reflect Florida's have implemented a variety of programs that closely monitor K–3 students to identify reading needs and weaknesses early on. These programs include reading improvement plans, earlier and more frequent parental notices, and strategies for how parents can help.

Right now, there are two bills in front of lawmakers in the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate that support early literacy programs. These pieces of legislation both focus on third grade, which is the pivotal year in which children are expected to finish learning how to read. This allows students to start reading to learn once they enter fourth grade. Therefore, children who leave third grade without knowing how to read will fall behind, oftentimes resulting in behavioral problems and required remedial courses. By supporting early literacy programs, we are saving Alaska resources and, most importantly, providing a better future for our students.

I encourage you to be an active investigator into the actual literacy of your child. Write to your representatives and tell them that you support more interventional reading programs to ensure the early literacy of your child and all Alaska students.

It is true that Alaska children are just as bright, our teachers are just as dedicated and our parents love their kids just as much as parents in any other state. However, we cannot ignore the fact that there is a glaring problem with the literacy of our children. It will require all of us working together to ensure that Alaska children can read.

Mykala Steadman grew up in Soldotna and attended public schools there. She is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho, where she is studying communications with an emphasis in public relations. She is an intern with Alaska Policy Forum.

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