More than words on a page

Jenna Stephens—Staff Writer

If you are paging through the Diamond, chances are you can read and comprehend the words in front of you. The ability to read is sometimes taken for granted once mastered. But those first years of learning the alphabet and sounding out syllables are vital in promoting future success.

Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds recently announced the percentage of students in kindergarten through third grade who met or surpassed reading standards rose to 70.5 percent in the spring of 2018. This marked a 0.8 percent increase since fall 2017, and added to the now three-year streak of rising rates in Iowa’s students.

Despite this progress, the fact that almost 30 percent of Iowa’s K-3 students fail to reach the state’s benchmark reading standards pushes teachers, parents, community members and legislators to do more.

“It’s like a vehicle for other learning,” said Dr. Gwen Marra, Professor of Education. “When you learn how to read and master that skill or develop proficiency, then it makes your learning in other areas easier.”

The Iowa Early Literacy Law, adopted in 2012, requires that statewide progress in reading be measured three times a year in K-3 students. This screening includes Iowa school districts as well as private schools. The law also requires schools to provide “persistently at-risk” students with summer reading programs and requires that retention be considered for third grade students who fail to meet necessary standards.

“While the ability to read is important at all levels, research shows reading by the end of third grade is a critical predictor of success,” the overview of the Iowa Early Literacy Law states. The law points to long-term consequences of reading difficulties, such as dropping out of school. But the effects stretch far beyond a diploma.

Diversity in reading ability can be a challenge for teachers because children come in to elementary school at a variety of places. Some are ready to read; some are not. The home environment plays a significant role in determining reading ability as exposure to reading materials and the simple act of being talked to can influence their literacy later in life.

Many Dordt students volunteer with the Owl’s Nest program at the Sioux Center library. They meet weekly, serving as one-on-one mentors for struggling readers.

“Reading is important, because being able to understand and evaluate the ideas around you enables you to be more informed in the choices you have to make in your daily life,” said Jennifer Breems, Director of Library Services at Dordt. “Reading can increase your empathy for other people and help you see things from other people’s point of view.”

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