The national reading emergency

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation sounds the alarm on the national failure to bring children to reading proficiency by the end of third grade. The authors say:

If current trends hold true, 6.6 million low-income children in the birth to age 8 group are at increased risk of failing to graduate from high school on time because they won’t be able to meet [a] proficient reading level by the end of third grade.

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a major benchmark; after that age, students are expected to read, understand and analyze increasingly complex material to learn. Failure to learn to read in the primary grades is highly correlated with failure to complete high school.  In general, California’s 4th graders score just above the “basic” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Federal test that is the most reliable comparision across states. On the California Standards Test (CST),  just 44 percent of the state’s 3rd graders scored advanced or proficient in English/Language Arts in 2008-09;  among 4th graders that year, 61 percent scored advanced or proficient on the English/Language Arts test that year. 

And San Francisco? I don’t have NAEP data for our district (if it exists at all, since the Federal test is not given in every district every year, and even then to a subset of students). But on the CST, 47 percent and 66 percent, respectively of 3rd and 4th graders scored advanced or proficient in 2008-09.

I keep thinking of Deputy Superintendent Carranza’s statement to the Board last month that — due to the district’s lack of data/assessment on student progress throughout the year — he could not give us any idea of how our third graders would do on the CST this year. That lack of data means that our annual CST results, to be reported in August, will be more like an autopsy than a diagnostic exam.  I’m glad the Deputy Superintendent in charge of instruction in this district is focusing on the need for more and better data on student achievement — the lack of reading proficiency is an urgent problem that we’ve been talking about for far too long.

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3 responses to “The national reading emergency

  1. (to Caroline) I think the biggest point of the report is that third grade is major benchmark and has to be a focus for teachers, schools and districts.

    I’m sure many of us have heard that states project their prison population going forward by how many kids are NOT reading at grade level in third grade. As the report notes, if you are behind at this point it becomes less likely you’ll ever catch up.

    The emphasis on third grade reading is one being taken very seriously in my own school now. However, not so long ago, there were several teachers in our lowest grades that had the attitude that kids would just “catch up”, that there wasn’t that much to worry about as kids would just make it up at their own pace. For all the obvious reasons, this becomes problematic – pushing the problem off another year to another teacher. Each year the teacher has to bring them up MORE than a grade level to be AT grade level by the end of the year.

    My son was blessed with a fantastic 3rd grade teacher who literally brought him from behind grade level in several areas of language arts, to above grade level by the end of the year. It wasn’t what any of us thought was possible (she was the one who taught me that, at best, a student usually can only grow a grade level and a half in a school year.)

    I was happy to see this highlighted as a focus in the Annie P Casey report. There are many paths to get there – including (as your link suggests) reducing poverty, increasing access to books, etc. But also establishing clear goals and benchmarks and measuring it through assessment in these early grades is critical to ensure we get kids to be readers in 3rd grade.

    On a similar note: I’m listening to Po Bronsen’s “Nurture Shock” which reviews the current scientific research on children’s learning and development and am struck by how much happens long before kids can even walk. Talking and responding to your baby leads to language and vocabulary development, which ultimately leads to reading and writing skills, for example. I highly recommend this book.

  2. You probably should not worry that California students are scoring at the NAEP Basic level (which is NAEP’s estimate of grade-level performance). Consider this:

    State assessments often define ‘proficiency’ as solid grade-level performance, often indicating readiness for promotion to the next grade. NAEP’s policy definition of its ‘Proficient’ achievement level is ‘competency over challenging subject matter’ and is implicitly intended to be higher than grade-level performance. — Andrew Kolstad, Senior Technical Advisor, Assessment Division, National Center for Education Statistics

  3. Stephen Krashen posts a response to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report:
    http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2010/05/warning-about-early-warning.html

    “The Annie Casey Foundation report, Early Warning!, contains no new information, and recommends that we continue even more aggressively along the same path outlined by the Obama-Duncan administration, ignoring the most obvious solution to low reading achievement for children of poverty: Actual access to books and other reading material.

    “Standards and tests as a cure for poverty? …

    “This is a call to vastly expand the Duncan standards and testing program, expanding it two ways: down to birth, and to cover just about everything in a child’s life that can be measured and tested. It clearly states that the mission is to increase testing and tracking “from the cradle to college” and calls for an accelerated effort to “link K-12 standards to standards for early care and education from birth through kindergarten entry.” “