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WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) today introduced legislation designed to improve adolescent literacy.

The Striving Readers Act would provide grants to states and districts to create literacy programs specifically for middle and high school students. The legislation would help ensure that students at risk of dropping out because they read below grade level receive the literacy interventions they need to earn a high school diploma.

Washington state should receive about $12.6 million in grant funding through the $1 billion program.

"The Striving Readers Act is a landmark bill that focuses federal dollars on teen literacy for the very first time," Murray said. "Reading is the core to learning, but too many of our students make it past the lower grades without the literacy skills needed to succeed in school. Striving Readers invests in helping our older students improve their reading skills so they can reach graduation and succeed in life."

Striving Readers was first piloted in 2004 as a Title I demonstration program funded solely through the appropriations process. Last year's funding was $29.7 million, which was enough for only eight competitive grants. The Striving Readers Act would authorize $200 million in FY2008, with increasing funding through FY2012, which would allow expansion of Striving Readers to every state.

"The Striving Readers Act will place a significant concentration on improving the reading capabilities of our older students," said Sessions. "With 70 percent of our middle and high school students reading below grade level, we need to help them develop the reading skills and knowledge they need to succeed in all courses. This initiative will focus on advanced vocabulary and comprehension skills so that all of our students will be prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century."

Specifically, the Striving Readers Act would:

  • Help states create statewide literacy initiatives for students in grades 4 -12, share data on student progress with parents and the public, and improve teacher training and professional development in literacy so that all students receive high quality instruction.

  • Help districts and schools create plans to improve literacy for adolescents, develop top notch assessments, train teachers in every subject area in literacy strategies and use regular data to improve teaching and learning.

  • Allow districts and schools to hire and place literacy coaches, train parents to support the literacy development of their child, and connect learning inside the classroom with learning that takes place outside the classroom.

  • Require states, districts, and schools to participate in a rigorous evaluation that demonstrates student progress.

  • Require the federal government to complete an overall evaluation of the program to determine its impact on the nation's middle and high schools.

In addition to Sessions and Murray, nine other senators have signed on as bill co-sponsors.