There is a direct relationship between high school graduation and third-grade reading proficiency.
A 2011 report, "Double Jeopardy," by The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that "one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers." Twenty-six percent of third-graders who are poor and not reading proficiently will not graduate from high school, a rate six times higher than that for proficient readers.
This correlation goes a long way toward explaining the economic problems facing our state, but also points the way to addressing those problems.
The economic impact of not having a high school diploma is dire. The Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina reports that in 2010 the unemployment rate among workers without a high school diploma was 25.8 percent. In comparison, the unemployment rate for workers with a high school diploma was 19.2 percent and 4.3 percent for workers with a bachelor's degree from college. Education means more earning potential and more job security.
The results of the 2011 Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) were released July 22. Educators, parents and teachers should celebrate the gains made in mathematics, science and social studies. A greater percentage of students in 2011 met grade level standards or demonstrated exemplary performance in these subject areas in grades 3 through 8.
Reading, however, continues to be South Carolina's greatest challenge and threat to our economic future. In 2011, 10,655 third-graders in our public schools did not meet grade-level standards in reading. This suggests that 1,775 of these students will not graduate from high school. In grades 3 through 8, more than 84,000 students, or more than one-fourth of those tested, did not meet grade-level standards in reading. Comparing PASS results in 2011 with those in 2010, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level standards in reading actually declined in grades 3, 6 and 7.
This fall, a panel of experts -- the South Carolina Reading Achievement Systemic Initiative, appointed by the governor, the superintendent of education, members of the General Assembly, the chairman of the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee -- will define the focus and priorities needed to improve reading achievement for all students. The panel will look at factors that contribute to or impede reading achievement, including the physical health of children, language development and the quality of instruction provided in our schools. The end result will be a statewide policy for the teaching of reading.
Our focus in South Carolina must be students and not state and federal politics. Too much of our time, resources and energy have been devoted to other issues in public education. We must refocus our attention on answering the core question: What must be done to improve the teaching and learning of reading?
Neil Robinson, an attorney with Nexsen Pruet in Charleston, is chairman of the state Education Oversight Committee.