The Impact of Literacy for High School Students

Father reading with his daughter explores the impact of literacy

Why is Literacy Important for High School Students?

Literacy is the ability to read and write, and for your children, literacy is the foundation of their education and communication skills. “The prevailing approach to literacy is failing millions of children who are disproportionately Black and brown,” states the Forbes article How ‘Reading Instruction’ Fails Black And Brown Children. The impact of literacy is bigger than most parents realize.

Despite the fact that students are often expected to be literate by the fourth grade, there are shocking statistics, like those shared by The Hill below, regarding literacy rates among young teens, particularly teens within communities of color and those who have faced inequitable access to education. Many students “lack proficiency in reading skills” or are “functionally illiterate” in Georgia. This means that they are considered to be “unable to manage daily living and employment tasks.” 

While this deeply impacts students in our community, this is not exclusive to Georgia, indicating systemic issues nationwide. According to insights from National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP studies—a sector of the U.S. Department of Education—12th-grade students in the south, in cities or rural areas, Black and Brown students, English language learners, or students with disabilities show higher rates of illiteracy than their counterparts who fall within other demographic or geographic areas. NAEP also showed that, in 2019, Black students in 12th-grade had an average score that was 30 points lower than White students. 

Additionally, children who may not have received an equitable education due to systemic racism, ableism, or poverty, face challenges that trap them in a vicious cycle—educational policies and practices that fail to meet students’ needs, leading to illiteracy, leading to further problems in life caused by those same systemic issues, and so on. The Forbes article mentioned above shares that statistics from childhood illiteracy “translate into greater struggles in high school, lower college attendance and graduation rates, a higher likelihood of incarceration, and generally bleaker futures.” 

At redefinED atlanta, we are working to empower school systems, parents and guardians, students, and our Atlanta community to help create positive and equitable educational opportunities for K-12 students. Last year, we launched our two-year ARISE participatory grant, which provides a $300,000 fund to support Atlanta Public Schools’ goal of increasing student literacy outcomes. This aims to increase literacy proficiency, raising the percentage of students in grades 3-8 reading scores for Georgia Milestones from 36.9 percent, reported in 2019, to 47 percent by August 2026.

It is our job to work together to challenge current scholastic practices that don’t justly serve our children. Literacy impacts all students, and this skillset belongs to all students, including its benefits. 

Benefits of Literacy

A strong command of language sets a strong foundation for academic and job performance, and it promotes essential life and leadership skills, like self- and community-advocacy. Literacy has a variety of other benefits, including:

  • Higher self-esteem 
  • Improved concentration
  • Increased critical and analytical thinking
  • Expanded vocabulary
  • Meeting academic milestones
  • Managing daily living and employment tasks

These are just a few of the many ways that these skills can enrich your child’s life, and as a parent or guardian, you can make a difference. 

Prioritizing Literacy Skills with Your Teen

You may be asking, ‘how can I encourage and grow my teen’s literacy skills at home?’ Time and consistency are a few of the greatest indicators of a good outcome. Encourage your child to set aside time in their schedule to read something they enjoy independently, with their peers, or with you. Even for teenagers, reading with others and reading aloud, as well as listening to others do the same as they follow along, can increase their fluency and comprehension. Reading independently allows time for them to practice their skills. “Motivating students through topics that relate to their own lives and cultures” and new material related to developing interest areas helps them engage more easily with the words and story, according to Forbes. Reading for as little as 15 minutes per day is the consistent practice students’ need to improve. 

You can create a literacy-rich environment at home by getting your child a public library card or encouraging them to check out books from their school library. You can also prompt your child to write creatively, for school or for fun, which can improve literacy skills, as well as their imagination. This can be on paper, a computer, or simply in the notes app on their phone. 

And lastly, your teen has an opportunity to practice and improve literacy on each and every homework assignment they receive. If there are words they don’t recognize or understand, share the definition or have them research the meaning. Praising curiosity could inspire your child to develop a habit of looking up new words or words used in a new context, which can give them the tools they need to continue to expand their vocabulary.

How We Can Improve Literacy Together

Literacy is of the utmost importance for academic and long-term success in your child’s life. This is especially true for high school-aged students whose near-future goals and careers depend on their ability to communicate clearly and effectively. We, at redefinED atlanta, are here to listen and advocate for better educational practices for the children in our Black and Brown or under-resourced communities, as well as provide funding to give students the support they need and improve literacy proficiency in Georgia.

“There’s abundant scientific evidence that explains why our standard approach to reading instruction isn’t working for so many black kids—and others,” according to Forbes. We believe that people in our communities most impacted by injustices need to have more agency and the opportunity to take an active role in order to effectively address the historical inequities in Atlanta’s public school system that contribute to high teenage illiteracy rates. Even with teenagers, it’s never too late to help your child grow their literacy skills, and you don’t have to do that alone.