Issues Related to Literacy for African American Students

Sally McClellan
University of South Carolina Aiken


The importance of learning to read is vital for school success and for success in life. Numerous issues have been identified which hinder the success of African American students in school. Literacy is one area that holds both promise and obstacles. By identifying both, strategies can be developed to support the academic achievement of African American students.

The importance of learning to read has been clearly identified as a factor which can support the academic success of students in school. Reading leads the way for educational opportunities and achievement. But reading is not just about achievement, it’s about access and opportunity (Randolph & Sanders, 2011). The ability to read can make a difference in the opportunities students have which will give them access to future success. Improved literacy development will help African American males not only with academic achievement, but also economical, political and social standing (Tatum, 2012). The early grades are identified as the time when students are learning to read and beginning in fourth grade the shift is to read to learn. Failure to learn to read places a child on a trajectory for school failure. That failure to learn to read and to read with fluency and comprehension, hampers academic success in every area. Students who recognize their difficulties with reading hesitate to share their struggles. Instead they act out or drop out. They’ve dropped out even if they are physically still in the classroom. Without some intervention, these students may be looking at a bleak future that includes unemployment and/or incarceration. There is a high rate of illiteracy within the prison system. Illiteracy is closely tied to imprisonment where the illiteracy rate is 60%. The most significant factor related to the achievement gap is the ability to read (Randolph & Sanders, 2011). Education drives upward mobility so success in school determines to some measure success in life (Murname, Sawhill, & Snow, 2012). Literacy skills are essential for all students since academic success depends about the ability to read in all content areas.

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