Higher Literacy Standards Help Students Succeed in School—and in Life

For years, arguments for more rigorous academic standards have orbited around the need to make sure that all students are prepared for college and career in a competitive, global economy. Too often, those discussions gloss over the importance of core academic skills and the knowledge necessary to navigate the literacy challenges of everyday life. Long before students begin applying for college or training for workplace certifications, they need to begin making sense of complex texts through reading, writing, speaking and listening. 


Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards asks K-12 ELA students to engage with a range of quality, complex texts at every grade level, with particular attention to grade-appropriate fiction and non-fiction. Yet the way teachers help students achieve Standard 10 is by attending to all the other standards, including the oft-neglected writing, speaking and listening standards.

That's because, among other things, being “complex” doesn't just mean a text is difficult; it means students may require prior knowledge or vocabulary to make sense of the text, that the sentences are winding and contain numerous clauses, that the organization of the document may not be straightforward, or that the meaning isn't readily apparent.

At the end of the school day and throughout life, reading is multi-faceted. Focusing on one skill—or even a few skills—won't help students develop the critical thinking and communications mastery they need to succeed.

In the slideshow below, we look at just a few instances where higher literacy standards can help students succeed—not just in school, but in life.

In a world where structural inequities abound, weaving complex literacy skills together is critical to helping students succeed not only in college and career, but in the daily challenges of building a happy, healthy, balanced life.

Whether applying for financial aid or simply filing income taxes, successful adults need to be able to make sense of and engage with complex texts. (Image: Lumina Foundation)

The vast majority of parents aspire to see their kids enroll in college, but highly-skilled and well-paid technical workers like electricians, mechanics, carpenters, welders and others also require mastery of sophisticated, specialized content. (Image: Texas Electrical Excel)

Beyond the workplace, adults who lack the ability to make sense of a dense document like a lease agreement and its technical terms are at risk of being taken advantage of in their search for fair housing. (Image: Vertical Rent.)

Even making sense of a monthly credit card statement requires close reading, critical thinking, (and sounds mathematical reasoning!) and adults without these skills can fall prey to predatory lending practices.

Many students, especially students of color, bear the responsibility of helping their family members negotiate complex legal systems and procedures that require keen reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. (Image: University of Texas News)

The same is true for navigating bureaucratic processes like obtaining health insurance. For many students and their families, the ability to interpret and respond to such a document can be the difference between solvency and bankruptcy, or even life and death. (Image: 123RF)

Mastering academic content is about more than getting into college or finding a good job—it's about having access to opportunities in a society where inequities haunt those without the knowledge, vocabulary and literacy skills to secure fair housing, health care, financing, employment and more. Learn more about Standard 10 and how to prepare students for success in life by making sure they study a range of high-quality, complex texts.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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