Adolescent Literacy and Remedial Reading

The National Governors Association - Reading to Achieve

Reading to Achieve was published by the National Governors Association (NGA), and the NGA Center for Best Practices, which is the nation’s only dedicated consulting firm for governors and their key policy staff. The Center’s mission is to develop and implement innovative solutions to public policy challenges. (


The average percentage of all students meeting fourth- and eight-grade NAEP reading proficiency standards is less than 50 percent in every state.

Moreover, nationwide, more than 8 million students in grades four through 12 are struggling readers. Barely half of black and Hispanic ninth-graders complete high school in four years.

Neglecting students’ literacy has serious economic consequences for individuals and states. Today, almost 40 percent of high school graduates lack the reading and writing skills that employers seek, and almost a third of high school graduates who enroll in college require remediation. Deficits in basic skills cost the nations businesses, universities, and under-prepared high school graduates as much as $16 billion annually in lost productivity and remedial costs.

College graduates earn 70 percent more than high school graduate counterparts, while H.S. dropouts are four times as likely to be unemployed. Yet only three out of 10 eighth-graders in the U.S. today meet current standards for reading proficiency.

Two-thirds of new jobs require high literacy and education demands. Preparing more students to be successful in higher education will yield benefits for states. Students with strong literacy skills augment rather than drain state coffers. The state focus on literacy cannot end in third grade. Students must receive explicit literacy instruction throughout their adolescent years, defined in this guide as beginning in the fourth grade and continuing through the end of 12th grade.

To meet the proficiency requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, improve the quality of high schools, and close the achievement gap, governors must help struggling readers catch up, which is the aim of the federal Striving Readers Initiative. They must also help all students reach the higher literacy expectations.

Characteristics of Poor Readers Included:

Limited oral language proficiency

  • Poor decoding skills (i.e. how to decipher a written word based on knowledge that letters represent sounds.)
  • Poor fluency (i.e., the ability to read quickly, accurately, and with appropriate expression)
  • Limited vocabulary

Adolescent Literacy refers to the set of skills and abilities that students need in grades 4-12. Grade four is when students experience a shift in emphasis from learning how to read to learning from reading text.

The largest group of struggling adolescent readers experience some problems with fluency and comprehension.

The smallest group – no more than 10 per cent- cannot decode or read the words on a page. These students’ problems usually result from serious learning disabilities, insufficient decoding instruction in earlier grades, or a recent and abrupt transition to reading in English.

Increasingly, middle and high school classrooms are filled with ELLs. Rapid growth at the upper grade levels has meant that foreign-born immigrant children now represent a substantially larger share of the total high school population (5.7 percent) than they do the primary school population (3.5 percent).

The diversity of adolescent readers belies a single response. Students need instruction beyond third grade to learn.

  • Extra-help reading courses for students who can decode moderately well but have weak fluency and difficulties with comprehension
  • A reading course or a series of reading courses designed to provide direct instruction in phonemic awareness, decoding, and word attach skills

Few states have assessment tools that enable teachers and administrators to quickly determine why a student may not have met a state reading proficiency benchmark.

Teachers and Principals receive limited training in Adolescent Literacy instruction.

  • Teachers do not have the training or knowledge to do more, and they are often frustrated that remediation reading service are less available and less effective for their struggling adolescent students than they are for struggling younger readers.
  • Teaching and integrating literacy skills in content-area classes required middle and high school teachers to take on a new and often unfamiliar role. They need to know how to provide quality reading and writing instruction to meet literacy expectations for their content area. They also need instructional strategies to assist struggling adolescent readers.

* Effective training of middle and high school content-area teachers in literacy instruction must be systemic and sustained and must be more than a one-time workshop.

Five strategies

The panel recommended five strategies that governors and states should purse to improve adolescent literacy.

  • Build support for state focus on adolescent literacy.
  • Raise literacy expectations across grades and curricula
  • Encourage and support school and district literacy plans
  • Build educators’ capacity to provide adolescent literacy instruction
  • Measure progress in adolescent literacy at the school, district, and state levels.

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As a young student, I didn’t learn to read this way, and as an educator, I didn’t learn to teach this way, but after using Reading Horizons for a year, I have seen my students gain in ways that I never imagined to be possible.

Judy Barton - Naples, Florida

Reading Horizons provides our students with the tools to successfully decode any multi-syllable word. Every child who has completed the program has advanced at least one grade level.

Tasha - Teacher, Williamsport, Indiana

In the three months that our school has been using Reading Horizons we have seen incredible results. In addition to the overwhelming interest by our student body, several teachers have commented on increased confidence levels in class, increased fluency, and more accurate spelling.

Steven Squillante - Assistant Principal, Manhattan, New York

Reading Horizons has produced a research-based program that is easily implemented by teachers and immediately engages the students. Often I am asked by my students if they can practice the online portion of program on their own when other academic tasks are completed, and some have even practiced from home!

Alan Geho - Union Gap, Washington

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