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Teaching reading is a job that ought to start at home

January 31, 2003

If Pennsylvania teachers use part of a science class to improve students' reading skills, is science getting short shrift? It's a question that deserves an answer as schools try to increase standardized test scores to meet the terms of the federal "No Child Left Behind" law.

The issue of whether educators are "teaching to the test" arose again after some teachers in the Erie School District issued report cards without grades in science and social studies because those classes also included lessons on how to improve students' reading.

According to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, local school districts have a great deal of latitude in how they prepare students for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. What the spokesman didn't say is that districts won't get much latitude if their scores on the PSSA tests fall short.

Reading is crucial to the understanding of every subject and some may be surprised by the fact that many fifth graders don't read well enough to understand science and social studies lessons.

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But it's true, because there are many homes in which children never see parents read a book and have never had a book read to them. It should be no surprise that a child coming to school from such a home needs help with reading.

But just because state assessment tests require proficiency in reading and not social studies is no reason to diminish the important of those classes.

What should be done - and what will be mandated under No Child Left Behind - is mandatory help, outside the classroom if necessary, for students who need help with their reading.

In the meantime it would not hurt if schools, health agencies and hospitals collaborated on a campaign to get new parents to read to their children. Those who believe education doesn't begin until a child starts school need to be told how important it is to begin that process as early as possible.

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