State school board member urges reforms

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2005

Contributed report

Montgomery, Ala. – State education policymakers nationwide are calling for a new approach and redoubled efforts to teach adolescents how to read.

According to a year-long literacy study Reading at Risk: The State Response to the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy by members of the National Association of the State of Boards of Education (NASBE) released in October, comprehensive state literacy initiatives must eliminate the old system and make way for a new vision of teaching and learning for all students.

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Alabama Board of Education District 3 Member Stephanie Bell served on the NASBE committee addressing the nation’s illiteracy crisis. “State education leaders have a responsibility to make improving student literacy a priority for every student,” said Bell. “Every state accountability plan must include and effective reading strategy and link reading and writing. Alabama makes that direct correlation through the Alabama Reading Initiatives (ARI) and the administrations of the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT) and the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing (ADAW) to students in Grades 3-8 statewide.”

Alabama was one of the three states featured in the report. Bell presented to committee members on how Alabama is addressing middle and high school literacy. “My primary focus, of course, was the Alabama Reading Initiative and it was well-received,” said Bell. “In serving on this committee I discovered Alabama is ahead of most other states in dealing with illiteracy in the upper grades. Additionally, many of the outside presenters also mentioned the positive steps our state is taking to deal with problems in this area.”

The problem of low levels of literacy among students nationwide is enormous and worsening because the stakes are climbing higher. It will take rigorous statewide policies and programs at the local school system level and the instructional practices of teachers across the curriculum.

“Reading is a basic human right. An inability to read in today’s world is to be consigned to educational, social and economic failure. School leaders have an absolute and unequivocal educational responsibility and moral obligation to ensure that every child learns how to read, and read well,” declared Brenda Welburn, NASBE Executive Director.

The urgency to address this national crisis in adolescent literacy requires a collective response on the part of policymakers and practitioners. NASBA is collaborating with other key constituencies, including the National Governor’s Association, the National Association for Secondary School Principals, and the Alliance for Excellent Education, in order to mobilize a full-scale effort by states to address low literacy levels among middle and high school students.

The full report and recommendations, Reading at Risk: The State Response to the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, is available for $18 by calling (800) 220-5183 or via the Internet at

NASBE represents America’s state and territorial boards of education. Principal objectives are to strengthen state leadership in education policymaking; advocate equality of access to educational opportunity; promote excellence in the education of all students; and assure responsible lay governance of education.