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[Susan notes: We can all use these facts to write letters to local papers, counter assertions that U. S. kids do badly in reading.]

Submitted to Chicago Sun-Times but not published

To the editor

Gov. Blagojevich (letters, Jan. 26) feels there is a problem in reading in Illinois because "thirty-eight percent of Illinois third-grade children cannot read at the third-grade level. Thirty-six percent of eighth-graders do not meet eighth-grade reading standards. Forty-four percent of 11th-grade students can't meet basic reading standards."

These "standards" are arbitrary, decided on by committee. It has been shown repeatedly that different committees come up with different standards; Jeff McQuillan has pointed out that one person's "basic " is another person's "proficient."

It makes more sense to compare Illinois to the rest of the US. In the NAEP reading test, given in 2003, eighth graders in Illinois scored above the national average and fourth graders scored exactly at the national average. The US national average compares very well with other countries. Students in the US do well in international comparisons of reading. In 1992 our nine-year olds placed second among 32 countries, and only three countries outscored our 15-year-olds in the most recent comparisons. For the state as a whole, Illinois is doing ok.

Stephen Krashen, Emeritus Professor, USC

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