Senator John ThuneNow that the celebrations of Christmas and New Years are behind them, South Dakota's students are returning to school for another semester of learning and development. Chances are good that many of these students received new books, making this time of year an especially good one to focus on the importance of reading in a child's development.
It is well known that children who develop good reading habits at a young age will keep their love of books throughout their life. Instilling the love of books in children is an important job of our teachers as well as our families, and I hope that parents, grandparents, and other family members consider the importance of reading this month.
All of the work that families do to put books in the hands of children must be reinforced in South Dakota's schools. I am pleased with the success that many schools in the state have had in improving reading test scores through the Reading First program, a federal program that states have been able to apply for which allows schools to focus on scientifically proven reading instruction for children up to the third grade.
Since the implementation of Reading First, participating schools have seen dramatic improvements in reading scores. According to the South Dakota Department of Education, the statewide Dakota STEP assessment have showed an increase in the number of students in the advanced category from 20 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2007 for participating schools. Similar gains have been made in the proficient category. The gains made by students as a result of this program are very impressive, and it is my hope that the program, or others like it, will be reauthorized.
I also have received letters from constituents in support of the Reach Out and Read program, a national non-profit organization that has received some federal funding. The goal of Reach Out and Read is to put books in waiting rooms where children and their parents spend time, such as doctor's offices and clinics. More than 100 health providers and sites throughout the state of South Dakota currently participate in the program.
Reading is a skill that is not only necessary in the education of all children, but it can be the key that unlocks many doors in the future, be it creative development, scientific exploration, or simply broadening a child's imagination. Instilling the love of reading can be accomplished through the cooperation of schools and families, and I know that South Dakota will reap the benefits of such cooperation for years to come.
As the father of two daughters who attended South Dakota public schools, I have seen the benefits of strong school reading programs and family emphasis on reading in my own home. South Dakota has many great libraries, making it easier for families to emphasize reading in the house. I am confident that parents will be amazed at the results.