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Introduction and Background
Statement of the Problem
Reading and writing are intricate and complex processes that are closely related to and dependent on other language abilities (Pearson & Stephens, 1994). Language is the vehicle by which individuals acquire literate behaviors. Without language, we could not effectively express our thoughts and opinions or understand the thoughts and opinions of others. Language plays an important role in the development of literacy during the school-age and adolescent years. Therefore, the reciprocal relationship between language and literacy is one that cannot be ignored when considering students' academic success. From decoding and comprehension (Curtis, 2002) to succinctly expressing one's thoughts through writing, language skillsuch as appropriately posing and replying to questions vocabulary knowledge, and inferenceare vital for academic success.
The academic needs of struggling adolescent readers are not receiving appropriate attention by educators and researchers (Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999). Academic problems encountered by low-achieving students are often language related; however, teachers rarely attribute academic failure to language deficits (Ehren, 2002). The International Reading Association (2001) stated,
Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. (p. 3)
Nevertheless, more and more adolescents are unable to meet the literacy demands of their home and school environments (Hock & Deshler, 2003). When students lack appropriate language and literacy skills, they cannot fully access the curriculum. Consequently, academic failure is often the result.
It is reported that approximately, five million (60%) high school students cannot read well enough to understand the information presented to them in their textbooks or other materials written for their grade level (Hock & Deshler, 2003). Yet, existing mandates expect these students to read well enough to sift through high-stakes state tests that are designed to measure academic competence in the subject areas such as language-arts, mathematics, science, and social studies (Moore et al., 1999). These tests evaluate a student's mastery of the curriculum content standards created by each state as necessary for graduation from high school. According to the Ohio Department of Education (2005, 2006b, 2007a), between 24-27% of Ohio's tenth-grade students failed to meet the state standards in reading and writing as revealed by the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Ohio Graduation Tests (OGT). Although it is presumed that complex variables play into this phenomenon, a better understanding is needed about why Ohio's adolescents are performing poorly on exams such as the OGT. Hock and Deshler (2003) claimed that students are failing standardized tests, not because they do not have the knowledge and intelligence to pass, but because they do not possess the reading skills necessary to pass. If this is true, exploring the relationship between language skills and literacy as they relate to state assessments may be warranted to provide further insight on this issue.