An estimated 18 percent of the 678 students at Southwest Junior High School have some trouble reading, said a school reading specialist.
That doesn't mean the students aren't bright. On the contrary, the students are very intelligent, said specialist Pam Staab.
"For some reason they just have problems with reading and need more time," she said. "It's sort of like, I'm not a good artist and it takes more instruction for me to draw well. For some kids, reading doesn't come easily."
Students in junior high schools in Lawrence, however, may be lucky compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The Lawrence school district has safety nets in place for students struggling with reading, and there is a reading specialist, such as Staab, at each of the junior high schools.
But too often those backstops are lacking, according to Donald Deshler, a special education professor and director of Kansas University's Center for Research on Learning.
Deshler said that reading instruction across the nation generally was limited for children after the third grade.
Some of Deshler's research about literacy and adolescents was incorporated into a report titled "Reading Next," which was released Wednesday by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Alliance for Excellent Education.
The report, which focuses on literacy problems among adolescents, includes a plan for meeting the needs of struggling readers.
Deshler's group has focused its research on at-risk adolescents since 1978.
"We feel good that the research we've done and the effects we've seen in the schools we've worked in are being embraced in a report like this," Deshler said.
Deshler said people assumed once students were in high school that they didn't need to learn reading skills. But even in the highest achieving schools there are students who struggle with literacy problems.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 8 million students in fourth through 12th grades were struggling readers. Deshler said that problem contributed to the national dropout rate.
Historically, more emphasis has been placed on ensuring that students in kindergarten through third grade learn basic reading skills. An example of this is the Reading First program, which is a federally funded initiative assisting some school districts in improving the reading skills of kindergarten through third-grade students.
"I think the problem I'm seeing happen is that we begin to de-emphasize how to read things and emphasize what we want them to learn from a text," said Ann Bruemmer, arts and humanities director for Lawrence schools. "We stop realizing that all our lives we're learning how to read new text."
The report "is an attempt to say we have very little resources to put toward this problem," Deshler said. "Let's try to come up with a master plan here that won't constrict what you're doing, but it would give us a way to communicate with one another in being aware of the directions we're going so we could be strategic in what we're doing."