Is Reading No Longer a Stand-Alone Subject?

Reading is fundamental, but should it be taught as a standalone subject? One county school system in Maryland is proposing no. But the importance of reading in academic achievement has been well-documented, making the school system's proposal seem somewhat ill-advised. Will, and should, reading survive to stand on its own?

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Class Dismissed

The Howard County school system recently announced changes it is considering making to its middle school schedule. The proposal includes removing one period per day, so instead of eight 45-minute classes students would attend seven 50-minutes classes.

The odd class out? Reading.

Separate reading classes began in the Howard County school system about 20 years ago. Though that 'served us very well in the past' Linda Wise, county chief academic officer, told The Baltimore Sun in November 2011, it is believed that a curriculum geared for college and career readiness now needs to be implemented.

Reading = Academic Success

Though Howard County is not proposing to do away with reading entirely (those who are not reading at their grade levels, for instance, will still get the attention they need in separate reading classes), some opposition has been heard regarding the suggested change.

One argument against the idea is that reading is a necessity for educational success in all subjects. Advocates of reading aloud to children, for instance, point to advanced vocabulary and comprehension skills of children who are read to as opposed to those who are not. It is these children, studies show, who display higher academic achievement.

Other studies have shown that students who fall behind in reading have more difficulty catching up, and sometimes never do.

'We Still Need Reading'

The '10 Research-Based Principles' regarding the improvement of reading comprehension in children as published by the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) indicates that reading should be taught separately. Number one on the list is: 'Effective comprehension instruction requires purposeful and explicit teaching.'

True, reading comprehension can and should be addressed in all subjects, but it's hard to make an argument, no matter how hard Howard County schools might try, to remove reading as a standalone subject. Howard County would do well to heed the advice of Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, when he told The Baltimore Sun in November 2011: 'We still need reading as a subject area and educational focus at the middle school level.'

Why? Well, despite the 93% proficiency rate of Howard County students in state reading assessment testing, comprehension tends to decrease as reading materials become more difficult. So some see a potential problem down the road if reading is removed from the curriculum.

As Howard County school board member Brian Meshkin asked in a recent article, 'Are we forsaking some of the basic education foundation building blocks if we do this?' Many researchers and reading organizations would likely believe so.

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