Literacy in its fullest sense encompasses understanding and analyzing spoken and written texts from fiction and poetry to speeches, primary source documents in history, scientific research papers, news reports, opinion pieces, and more, in both print and digital form. It involves synthesizing information from multiple sources and subjects to solve real-world problems. It includes understanding modes of expression that are appropriate in different settings and being able to harness them to create clear, compelling, and powerful written and spoken texts of all kinds, from evidence-based essays to oral presentations to creative works in print and online.

This is the literacy our students want and deserve in order to access what interests them, and it is what they need for success not only in all school subjects, but in careers and in life.

But according to the latest data from measures like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), too many of our students aren’t achieving at the levels they should. This isn’t unique to Baltimore. Around the world, high school students in Canada, Singapore, Slovenia, Finland, and numerous other countries outperform students in most U.S. states in reading, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment.

Schools in these high-performing countries, and in high-performing states like Massachusetts, have some common features, including emphasizing acquisition of a wide range of complex knowledge, deep conceptual understanding, and the ability to write well. We must take the opportunity to learn from our international colleagues, improving literacy instruction so students master foundational skills and academic vocabulary in the early elementary years — and continue to build skills and content knowledge so they are prepared for the more demanding, more rewarding, and richer literacy tasks that become the focus in middle school, high school, and beyond.