Summer means an extended break for Georgia students. No homework. No tests.
But for many Georgia students — particularly for those who are poor — summer also means a dramatic drop in reading skills, as five-days-a-week instruction is replaced by video games and television.
To combat the summertime loss of reading skills it calls “an epidemic,” the state Department of Education has announced a reading challenge.
Parents are encouraged to have their children read 15 to 30 minutes each day over the summer. Those in kindergarten through second grade should read 10 books. Students in grades three through five should read eight chapter books, and those in the sixth grade and higher should read five fiction books and five nonfiction books.
Based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, frequently referred to as “the nation’s report card,” two-thirds of Georgia students are not as proficient in reading as they should be, a level of proficiency that is slightly lower than that of the nation as a whole.
Educators in Georgia and across the country say reading is the bedrock of all academic instruction and being able to read by the third grade is essential for future success in school.
Poor students are more likely than affluent ones to return from summer break with weaker reading skills because of limited access to books, state education officials say. The reading gap between poor and more affluent students continues to widen with each summer, they add.
“If I could get one message out to parents, it would be, ‘Turn off the TV; turn the computer games off,’ ” Georgia Superintendent John Barge said. “Set aside some time to read. Summer loss is not something that has to happen.”
The reading challenge was announced during a press conference Thursday at Timber Ridge Elementary in Cobb County as a nod to the achievements of the school’s students and teachers.
Timber Ridge’s most recent grade on the state’s College and Career-Ready Performance Index was a 95.1, one of the highest in the state.
Students greeted visitors to the school Thursday with a smile, practiced handshake and a welcome.
But even at high-achieving Timber Ridge, some students return from summer break weaker in reading than they were before, said the principal, Adam Hill.
“It can be quite noticeable,” Hill said. “You can definitely tell when there’s a child that wasn’t reading over the summer. It can hold us back in terms of jumping off. You have to sort of rebuild that foundation.”
Some districts in Georgia provide students with books to read over the summer. Other districts, however, can’t afford to do that. The state is not stepping into that financial breach.
“We don’t have the resources to buy books and send them home with students,” Barge said.
Instead, the state is encouraging parents to take advantage of summertime reading programs offered by their local school district or to come up with one of their own.
The state is urging parents to visit “Find A Book, Georgia,” a website designed to help parents find reading material that is in line with their child’s reading level.
To get a list of suggested books, parents can either answer a couple of questions about their child’s grade, interests and reading skills or type in the child’s Lexile score — an indicator of the child’s reading level that was included on some CRCT and end-of-course tests.
Students who got a reading scale score on the CRCT were given a Lexile score, as were those who took the end-of-course test in ninth-grade literature and composition or American literature and composition.
Parents can then purchase the recommended books or check them out from their local library.
Beyond urging their children to read, Barge said he also wants parents to spend some time reading.
“Read with your kids,” he said. “Model what you want them to do.”
By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution