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.
I received this email tonight, from a parent who wasn’t able to speak at Tuesday night’s board meeting (the video of the meeting is here; the CAC for Special Education item starts about two hours in). I think it’s worth posting here (with the parent’s permission, and edits to keep it anonymous), because it sums up where we aren’t (and need to be) in special education:
I am the parent of two children at ______ Elementary and have been involved in Special Ed either through Resource or Speech or both for the last eight years. My children have always been in general ed with a push out/pull in model and are examples of the 80% of Special Ed children who are invisible on the playgrounds around the district.
Even though children like mine comprise 80% of the Special Ed population they comprise very little of the conversation about meeting the needs of Special Ed children. My children go to one of the premier elementary schools in the district but I would argue that the RSP services rank along with probably the most mediocre. I like many parents in this district have had to go outside of the district to get proper remediation for my children.
My youngest child has a Specific Learning Disability and has been referred by Resource at my school to Slingerland Summer school for the last two summers yet she has never seen this method used in her resource work. Why would we recommend an intervention that they (the professionals) at the district do not practice ourselves? I think the answer is that the resource teacher knows what the child needs but is not trained to work with the child in the needed methodology. Between 4 and 6 kids every year from [school] get referred to Slingerland every summer ( 3 hours a day for six weeks at a cost of between $1000-$2000 per kid–and this is inexpensive for this type of work–$90 per hour is going rate) yet we do not have the RSP teacher trained in the method for use year round with all her clients.
That we do not have a trained reading specialist available to each site seems almost criminal as one in five children nationwide experience some level of difficulty in acquiring reading skills. It should not be by sheer accident of birth that a child is born into a family that can afford to pay for proper remediation so the child has the opportunity to learn to read. All children with normal cognitive abilities can be taught to read given the attention and most importantly proper teaching methodologies.
This brings me to the Board’s response to the CAC Report last night. I felt in listening to the interaction between the Board and the Committee representatives that the commissioners . . . lacked awareness in the issues facing the CAC committee and parents of disabled children in the district. Please note:
- There were comments made about the level of outreach and representation that the committee makes to African American and Latino Families. The committee is comprised of volunteers with no funding (even for photocopies!) to make outreach to a population that due to “confidentiality” issues are isolated. I am not a member of the CAC but attend meetings regularly ( as I noted I have had kids in Spec Ed for 8 yrs and was not aware of the committee until last year or PAC for that matter!) and I would invite [Commissioners] to take the time to attend a meeting to see the diversity and meet the parents. My name is [not Latino] and my children are Latina–representative of the diversity and mixed heritage of families in our city–do not judge by surname or the skin color of the parent representing the child.
- The issue is probably less of race than of resources. If African American and Latino families are over represented in Special Ed, I would argue that they are also the least able to pay for the expensive remediation or services needed to keep their kids out of Special Ed. For the 80% of Special Ed kids who are in resource (also over represented by these groups) a really hard look at how we are implementing RTI in grades K-2 and if these K-2 teachers are trained to spot and act on early signs of at risk for reading failure would be of incredible value to those students (frankly of life changing value). This does not even speak to the at risk kids who are unidentified in our district…low third grade reading scores speak for them….
- I would argue that critique of CAC representation should be more about disability than race. A better representation would be well rounded in having experience in the programs for Special Ed rather than focusing on race. I have no experience with Inclusion or Special Day classes and would not be able to speak on that experience…regardless of race you need representation based on exposure to programs.
For all the talk about “Social Justice” last night I can only say that I felt that the basic needs of the children are being left out of the conversation. I believe that what every parent wants in this district (and hopes they get for their tax dollars) is a system that gives every child the same opportunity to a good education to prepare themselves for their responsibilities as adults in the community. This free education should be available to every child regardless of race, economic status or disability. We need to see that we do not stray from that path.