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AFT Resolutions

ADOLESCENT LITERACY

WHEREAS, to be successful in school and in life, adolescent students in middle and high schools must develop strong literacy skills and background knowledge, which together are essential for college and workplace readiness; and

WHEREAS, resolving the literacy problems of adolescents requires a simultaneous two-prong approach: delivery of rich content knowledge and literacy skills in the elementary grades coupled with intervention and support for those students in secondary schools who need them; and

WHEREAS, schools should assure that all children are acquiring grade-level reading skills beginning in kindergarten, through the use of appropriate curriculum and instructional practice and effective procedures for the early identification of weak readers and intensive intervention for them; and

WHEREAS, myriad indicators of the state of adolescent literacy in the U.S. point to cause for concern:

·               Over 8 million students, close to 10 percent, in grades 4-12 are struggling readers who cannot navigate and master middle and high school content[i];

·               More than 3,000 students drop out of high school each day, in large part because they lack the literacy skills to be able to keep up with increasingly complex secondary school curricula[ii];

·               Eleven percent of college freshmen must enroll in remedial reading courses and approximately 25 percent of all entering freshmen must enroll in remedial writing courses[iii];

·               Literacy demands of the workplace, postsecondary education, and life are increasing while reading achievement levels for adolescents have remained stagnant for the last 10 years; and

·               The shortage of basic literacy skills costs U.S. businesses, postsecondary institutions and under-prepared high school graduates as much as $16 billion in decreased productivity and remedial costs[iv]; and

WHEREAS, adolescent students who are also English language learners face even greater challenges than other struggling adolescent readers as they attempt to learn and use a new language while concurrently being expected to learn content in that new language[v]; and

WHEREAS, there is no single reason why adolescents struggle with reading: some adolescents have difficulty with decoding, some with fluency and vocabulary, some with comprehension, some with inadequate general knowledge, and still others struggle with all or with combinations of the above; and

WHEREAS, both literacy skills and background knowledge are essential to students’ understanding of the content area texts; and

WHEREAS, content teachers should not be expected to be reading teachers but, instead, must be able to support students’ efforts to access content through reading and to emphasize and reinforce the reading and writing skills specific to each content area; and

WHEREAS, schools that serve adolescents typically do not have the programs/supports and/or the resources with which to intervene successfully to raise struggling students’ reading levels; and

WHEREAS, administrators often lack the skills and knowledge to establish and support effective literacy reform efforts in their schools; and

WHEREAS, there is significant research on what components are essential in a sound and effective comprehensive literacy program in schools and districts:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers:

·               Reaffirm our belief in the absolute importance of early literacy acquisition and background knowledge as the foundation upon which adolescent literacy is based; and

·               Recognize the critical role that knowledge acquisition—from early childhood forward—plays in adolescents’ abilities to read and comprehend text; and

·               Recognize the importance of school library media centers so that students can access materials of their choice to strengthen literacy acquisition, content comprehension and lifelong love of reading.

·               Recognize the importance of literacy instruction for all adolescent students, not just for those who are struggling readers; and

·               Recognize that literacy acquisition is complex and not properly measured by standardized reading tests alone; and

·               Urge federal and state governments to commit to improving adolescent literacy through additional funding targeted specifically to aid in literacy acquisition; and

·               Call for the creation of a national adolescent literacy panel to include practitioners, representatives of teacher unions, higher education faculty, and researchers to collect and analyze research on adolescent literacy and to identify and disseminate a consensus document to further our knowledge of adolescent and young adult literacy, as well as best practice and programs educators can use to improve adolescent literacy; and

·               Call for the identification and/or development of proven research-based instructional strategies, practices and materials that enable adolescents to become more literate—with a particular focus on what works in schools with large populations of struggling adolescent readers; and

·               Call on states and districts to require that all secondary and elementary schools  adopt a comprehensive schoolwide literacy plan—reviewed and approved by instructional staff that includes:

o                         initial and ongoing assessment of all students’ reading achievement levels;

o                         immediate, intensive interventions for students whose reading levels must be improved if they are to succeed in content courses;

o                         professional development for teachers, literacy specialists and principals on how to embed effective literacy acquisition strategies into content instruction, including how t
a) incorporate instructional strategies (e.g., vocabulary development, note-taking and the use of advanced organizers) that provide struggling readers ways to learn the content material despite their low reading levels;
b) infuse direct, explicit, research-based instructional practices that enhance students’ content area literacy and give all students practice in accessing, understanding, analyzing, and otherwise engaging with content across disciplines; and

o                         a school structure, schedule and appropriate staff roles—consistent with collective bargaining agreements or through sign-off by the organization representing teachers—that support the schoolwide literacy program;

o                         on-site reading specialists/coaches whose primary responsibility is to help content-area teachers modify instruction to strengthen students’ content literacy; and

o                         technology and diverse texts of all reading levels to facilitate students’ access of content material.

·               Call on districts and schools to provide intensive, concentrated, full-immersion intervention programs, i.e., “Boost-camps,” for all students significantly below standards (e.g., three or more years below grade level) so that they can develop the reading ability and background knowledge necessary to access information from content area courses; and

·               Call on unions, states, districts and universities to provide high-quality professional development through which teachers and administrators can develop the instructional skills and strategies necessary to facilitate their students’ abilities to access content area material, including strategies that will enable students to more successfully comprehend and engage with text; and

·               Call on preservice education programs to develop—and accrediting agencies and licensure entities to require—preservice education that teaches secondary school teacher candidates the literacy instructional practices and strategies specific to their content area that would enable their students to meet the literacy demands of content areas; and

·               Call on states to develop and align literacy standards (that incorporate expectations of reading complex text) to rigorous, knowledge-rich content area curricula, instructional materials and assessments; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT:

·               Continue to work in collaboration with other education, business, professional and community organizations as well as with federal and state governments to advocate and lobby for systemic, comprehensive, well-designed adolescent literacy programs in all middle and high schools, and especially in those schools with substantial proportions of struggling readers; and

·               Collect and disseminate to members research on best practices and programs in adolescent literacy, with a particular focus on adolescent readers who 1) are English Language Learners; 2) may be struggling because of lack of decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary, and/or sufficient background knowledge to make sense of texts; or 3) have other reading difficulties; and

·               Continue to develop, revise and disseminate Educational Research & Dissemination (ER&D) and other sources of professional development offerings appropriate for secondary school teachers and to identify and develop resources, such as “What Works,” to improve students’ reading comprehension; and

·               Develop and disseminate a toolkit defining the components of an effective, comprehensive adolescent literacy program; and

RESOLVED, that we urge our affiliates to adopt these policies.



[i] National Center for Education Statistics (2003).  Nation’s report card:  Reading 2002.  Washington, D.C:  US Government Printing Office.  Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003521

[ii] Kamil, M.L. (2003). Adolescents and literacy:  Reading for the 21st century.  Washington, D.C:  Alliance for Excellent Education.  Available:  http://www.all4ed.org/publications/AdolescentsAndLiteracy.pdf

[iii] ACT (2006).  Reading Between the Lines:  What the ACT Reveals About College Readiness in Reading.  Iowa City, IA.  Available:  http://www.act.org/path/policy/pdf/reading_report.pdf

[iv] Greene, J. (2000).  The cost of remedial education.  How much Michigan pays when students fail to learn basic skills.  Midland, MI:  Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

[v] National Governors Association (2005). Reading to Achieve:  A Governor’s Guide to Adolescent Literacy.  Washington, D.C. Available:  http://www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0510GOVGUIDELITERACY.PDF


(2006)