Student reading deficiencies are becoming a generational problem

The numbers regarding reading ability should be shocking to everyone.

Andrew Donaldson

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A library in Scott’s Run is pictured in 1936. The recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress reports showed both fourth graders and eighth graders in West Virginia scored the lowest reading scores ever. Courtesy photo/Work Projects Administration

Of all the pastimes the older folks among us acquire a taste for, concerning themselves with what the next generation of children will make of themselves is always in fashion. The habit of fretting, cajoling, or pontificating about those darn kids these days and how they should be such and such for so and so is not only a habit of the moment but a tale as old as time. Situated somewhere between “get off my lawn” and “back in my day” lies the pseudo-sage wisdom that is a thin veneer on whatever myopic pet peeve that particular practitioner of polemics has in mind. You can make anything you want out of such criticisms, which makes it universal to each generation that reaches the socially acceptable to publicly yell at clouds age.

But there is a grain of validity to the accusation, that each new generation that traverses between youths and adults needs to find their way, find their purpose, find their voice. How many parents, teachers, and adult influencers utter some version of “you can be anything you want to be” to a child they are trying to encourage. They can be to a point, and should become the leaders, speakers, and writers of their own stories for a while before turning into the next generation of wagging their all-knowing finger at the generation coming behind them.

“You can make anything by writing,” wrote C.S. Lewis. But to write, you have to be able to read. And the numbers regarding reading ability should be shocking to everyone.

The recently released and reported on National Assessment of Educational Progress reports showed both fourth graders and eighth graders in West Virginia scored the lowest reading scores ever. Covid-19 is quickly pointed to as the main culprit, and that epic disruption in formal education no doubt was a major factor. But it cannot be the only cause in such a precipitous drop. The pre-pandemic testing in 2019 was also below national averages, and lower than 2017 and 1998. Proficiency scores were not significantly different either.

Years of teaching for the testing rather than teaching to learn take a toll. Educational priorities other than early childhood reading…

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Andrew Donaldson

Writer. Mountaineer diaspora. Veteran. Managing Editor @ordinarytimemag on culture & politics, food writing @yonderandhome, Host @heardtellshow & other media