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Reading into declining literacy rates

Updated: Feb 16

By Anna Yue and Viral Patil Feb. 14, 2024

Developing literacy skills—the ability to read, write and comprehend—is vital in education, as it enhances children’s communication and critical thinking skills. In 2023, however, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that the average reading scores of 13-year-olds in the U.S. had fallen four points since 2020, reaching the lowest it has been since 1975. Ben Domingue, an assistant professor at Stanford University, believes that declining children’s literacy is an exigent problem, as it could greatly alter the generation’s academic success. Some deemed the COVID-19 pandemic and screen time as the main culprit of the decline. No matter the cause, several methods have been proposed to counter decreasing literacy trends, including reading in groups or at home, visiting the library and limiting screen time. 

Daniel Choi Art

Literacy is an essential skill, required to understand and express ideas, study and communicate effectively with others, among various other applications. Reading comprehension is especially important in primary schools because it enables young pupils to understand and process information effectively, fostering critical thinking on a wide range of subjects. Furthermore, literacy enhances problem solving, laying the foundation for lifelong learning and educational achievements, as stated by the University of Michigan. Practicing these skills in school is essential as students can apply these skills for college applications, job interviews and other future responsibilities. 

The pandemic greatly decreased the reading comprehension levels of the American youth. Online school removed teacher-student interactions, which impeded student learning outcomes. Specifically, many children took longer to reach reading milestones and there was an increase in students with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders due to the lockdown, per the National Institution of Health (NIH). Attention spans have also decreased after online school. Gloria Mark, psychologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine, stated that the time one can look at a screen before being distracted has decreased from 120 seconds in 2004 to 75 seconds in 2012, and recently dropped to only 47 seconds. To restore the pre-pandemic levels of achievement, students need at least five additional months of instruction, as reported by Edweek, a U.S. newspaper.  

“I notice that now, it is hard for people including myself to sit down and read for a while. Since most of us are so used to stimulating, loud and colorful short-form content, reading becomes bland and inconvenient,” Freshman Elise Nguyen said.
Daniel Choi Art

In a world where the importance of literacy is increasing, the young generation’s ability to read and write seems to be progressing in the opposite direction. The lack of literacy skills in the younger generation has significant impacts on the economy. The World Literacy Foundation states that illiteracy could cost the world economy up to $1.19 trillion, as the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, 97 million new jobs will require more soft skills as technology is predicted to automate millions of low-wage and low-skill professions.  

Daniel Choi Art

Digital distractions have been gaining influence as technology advances. Notifications, text messages and social media are all forms of disturbances that promote multi-tasking, short attention spans and cause extra cognitive energy consumption. The rise of short-form video platforms in recent years further hinders the population’s ability to focus, as people get used to the minimal attention span required by each video. Andrea Yon, a middle school teacher in South Carolina, observes that students look up every three to five minutes when told to read for 20 minutes. 

“The decreasing literacy rate stems from increased screen time. Now, students use the internet to get answers to a question within seconds instead of reading a physical textbook to find it. Also, children mindlessly scroll through Instagram reels and other media rather than reading and writing, activities that stimulate one’s imagination,” Junior Mirei Takano said.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), surveys show that 90% of teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17 use social media. On average, teenagers are online almost nine hours a day, excluding time for homework. Due to the long durations of time spent on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms, students are often distracted from academic priorities. 

“Although social media can promote reading, the prevalence of digital and screen-based stimulation for young children can divert their growing minds from reading and traditional literacy activities. When a child stares at their parent’s screen all day, the only reading they do is through captions on social media posts. Social media also drains children’s creativity, as they are not encouraged to come up with their own entertainment because it is handed to them,” Sophomore Rachel Park said. 

For many low-income or minority students who struggle with language barriers in school and affording additional tutors, the process of learning to read is even more difficult. While school resources may not be sufficient for those who require additional support, public libraries are a valuable resource. Students can go there to access materials such as free books and audiobooks to improve their literacy throughout the year, as stated by Thunder Bay News Network. 

Daniel Choi Art

Without proper literacy development, underprivileged students are likely to experience lower learning outcomes compared to their peers, which is already a prominent issue. The U.S. Census Bureau asserts that individuals in the top socioeconomic quartile are eight times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree compared to individuals from the lowest quartile. 

Faced with the pressing issue of declining literacy rates, school systems have emphasized the importance of literacy in higher education and jobs, magnifying efforts to address the problem. For example, California spent over $50 million in 2020 to train and hire teachers and assistants, as well as buy books for 75 schools with the lowest testing scores.  

“Generally speaking, children stay home watching TV or surfing the internet. Today, public parks are empty and children do not go outside to play. We should take children to libraries and encourage them to read, showing them that reading is captivating or fun. Neighborhood kids’ reading clubs should also be implemented. The fixation on technology must be curbed to raise a generation of citizens that can compete with other countries, intellectually, economically and socially. Reading and writing fluidly is the key to a complete and well-rounded education,” Priyanka Dinesh, Counseling Department said. 

Just like any skill, literacy can be practiced and improved over time. Professionals suggest that children read about topics they enjoy, as they will naturally be more motivated and focused in the process. Restrictions on screen time can help increase children’s attention spans. Also, parents can set a role model for their children by reading alone or with their kids, and public libraries are another resource that communities can promote to improve reading skills. 

In the future, advancing literacy can help reduce poverty, create job opportunities and improve both mental and physical health, making it a crucial goal for schools and families.


About the contributors

Anna Yue

staff writer

Anna Yue is a sophomore staff writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys crocheting, sleeping, watching dramas, listening to music and reading web novels,

Vira Patil

staff writer

Vira Patil is a junior at Leland high school, and this is her first year as a staff writer on The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys to binge TV shows, spend time with her family, and play the piano.

Daniel Choi


Daniel Choi is a junior at Leland High School and an artist for The Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys watching shows, taking walks, and sleeping.

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