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Editorial - Reading is elementary

December 16, 1997

Dismayed by declining reading scores in the state's middle schools, Maryland Superintendent Nancy Grasmick says she'll appoint a group to look into the matter. We suggest that what the panel will find is that students need a firmer foundation in the elementary years.

Education is (or ought to be be) a process of building on what's gone before. Students who don't know their multiplication tables aren't going to do well in algebra or geometry. And so it follows that students who lack a strong background in reading are going to be lost when the middle-school teachers assume that they can read and comprehend well enough to do homework involving material that hasn't been read aloud in class.

We agree with those middle-school teachers quoted this week by The Associated Press, who said that they have so much ground to cover that they must rely on lectures and films to deliver material quickly. If they can't count on the majority of students having the reading skills to use their texts outside the classroom, then the class isn't going to make much progress.

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We do agree with Grasmick that teachers need enough background in the teaching of reading to spot students who are having problems in that area. Middle schools also need some remedial help for students who've gotten that far without becoming good readers.

But Maryland can't afford a massive remedial effort in reading at the middle-school level. Some may need it, but most should receive intensive reading training in elementary schools, in a program like that proposed in the last budget cycle by the Washington County school board.

Front-loading the system with reading help should ensure that most students don't hit a reading roadblock when they're ready for middle school, and that those who do will have the help they need to get back on track.

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