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SAT Reading Scores Continue to Fall

SAT Reading scores have hit an all-time low, dropping one point this year, four points over the past decade, and twenty-nine points since 1972.

Each year when we hear the bad news, people shake their heads, teachers assign more sight words, and we continue to march in the wrong direction.

With manufacturing and labor jobs disappearing, we can no longer afford to be a nation where only 3% of our citizens read at the highest levels of literacy. The United States cannot remain a great and stable democracy when almost half of its citizens read at the lowest levels of literacy, and when 68% of eighth graders read below grade level. It is no wonder our SAT scores are declining - Americans do not know how to read.

Reading is for everyone

Reading is the foundation of all academic learning. When a student struggles with reading, he will struggle with every other subject, even math. Yet, when I turn on the news it is math and science education that dominates the media as people debate the best way to raise up the next generation of mathematicians and scientists.

Teaching mathematicians and scientists must begin in our reading classrooms. Many of our nation's brightest math and science minds are being left behind in first and second grade. Our remedial reading classes are filled with logically-minded students who cannot make sense of a code in which more words are exceptions than rule-followers. However, these gifted students thrive when they are taught reading systematically!

Is there hope?

It is time we begin to teach reading in a way that respects these students and teaches to their strengths. It is time we teach them the logical code that accurately explains 98% of English words, rather than expecting them to guess, memorize exceptions without reasons, and somehow succeed at reading without ever being taught how written English actually works.

The federal government has spent billions of dollars in the past twenty years researching reading education. Ten years ago the National Reading Panel announced its conclusion: almost all students can learn to read when taught phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, fluency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary development. The research demonstrated that students do not learn to read simply by being read to, and there is no mention of learning sight words. Yet as school terms begin nationwide, students are returning home with lists of sight words to drill and memorize by rote. Sight words are a kill-and-drill activity requiring students to drill thousands of individual words without understanding.

The National Reading Panel's conclusions were met with the response of the Reading First legislation that is now tightening the noose around our nation's schools. What began with a message of hope for our nation's students has now become a message of failure.

So what is the solution?

We cannot wait for the government to fix this any longer. The solution to illiteracy is not legislation, money, or regulations. The solution to illiteracy resides in the hearts and minds of all the members of our communities.

As a nation we need to learn how English works. We need basic knowledge about our language, such as the fact that English words do not end in V, and therefore we add a silent final E (have, mauve, arrive, give). We need people to know that the letter S does not have only one sound but two, /s/ as in sad and wistful and /z/ as in is and pals. We need to teach our students that English is a complex but logical code and there are answers to their questions. As a nation we must stop deriding our language as illogical, telling students not to ask for reasons, and taking the easy way out by dismissing every word we do not understand as an exception. Knowledge of the logic of English needs to become as common as 1+1=2.

As we learn, we must also take responsibility to pass this knowledge on to our communities. We need to teach people to read, and to reach out to our teachers not with a message of condemnation but with a message of hope. It is time that we take responsibility to teach and transform our own communities.

Denise Eide is the author of the award-winning book Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy and the author of the Logic of English® series of reading and spelling curriculum.
Logic of English endeavors to improve English literacy worldwide through curriculum development, books, educational software, and training. Our products unveil the reasons for English spellings and provide educators and parents with answers to their students' questions about why words are spelled and read the way they are.

Learn more

Watch Denise's keynote "Uncovering the Logic of English" at READ/San Diego 2012
Read Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy
Test your own knowledge of the logic of English: Do You Know Why?
Learn the 75 phonograms and 31 spelling rules that together explain 98% of English words
Read the Research behind the Logic of English approach.
Find out more about our curriculum and how Logic of English teaches this information to first-time readers, struggling readers and spellers of all ages, and anyone who wants an efficient, logical way to master English spelling: