Special Report
Student Well-Being

Push for Grade-Level Reading Takes Many Forms

By Catherine Gewertz — May 11, 2015 3 min read
Vada Mooney, left, and Jakhai Bland-Jenious, both 4, play literacy games on tablet computers at Pine Ridge Prep in Topeka, Kan., part of a free program for students in public housing.

Five years ago, communities across the country formed a network aimed at getting more of their students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. States, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and foundations in 168 communities, spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia, are now a part of that initiative, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Examples of the work those groups have been doing in three areas to improve 3rd grade reading proficiency—attendance, summer learning, and school readiness—are spotlighted here.

Attendance

New Britain, Conn.

What: Program to reduce chronic absenteeism

Students make their way to class at Vance Village Elementary School in New Britain, Conn.

Quick look: When it launched an intense focus on grade-level reading in 2012, the district found that as many as 30 percent of its K-3 students were missing more than 10 percent of school. The district began sending attendance reports to schools every 10 days for the first 100 days of the school year. Newly created “attendance teams” in each school reviewed reports and worked with students and parents to reinforce the importance of attendance. School secretaries redoubled their efforts to ensure that teachers take attendance by 11 a.m. daily. Students scoring poorly on periodic literacy tests were invited to after-school or summer enrichment. District officials reached out to local pre-K and after-school programs to urge staffers to work closely with families to highlight the importance of regular school attendance.

Scope: 15 schools, 10,000 students in pre-K-12

Impact: Between 2011-12 and 2013-14, chronic absenteeism dropped 17 percentage points in kindergarten and between 6 points and 14 points in 1st through 3rd grades. Students who participated in the enrichment program last summer attended school more regularly and scored better on periodic literacy tests than those who were invited but didn’t participate.

School Readiness

Topeka, Kan.

What: Free all-day preschool program in public housing

Quick look: The program is a joint project of the Topeka Housing Authority, the Topeka school district, and United Way. It began in 2012-13 as a half-day program, but expanded to full-day because sustained participation worked better for the students. It now operates in four classrooms, in two housing-authority residences. Each classroom is headed by a state-certified preschool teacher, along with an assistant teacher and paraprofessionals, and uses a district-provided curriculum. A summer program was added in 2014. When the children enroll in elementary school, the district provides reading interventions and wraparound supports. United Way also provides out-of-school tutoring in reading and mathematics, and programs to ensure children get access to services such as meals and eye exams.

Scope: 50 3- and 4-year-olds who live in the complex

Impact: Between spring and fall 2014, all pupils in the program showed significant growth on 12 early-literacy and -math skills, such as recognizing uppercase and lowercase letters, counting orally, and recognizing numbers.

Summer Learning

Quad Cities, Illinois and Iowa

What: Summer enrichment program

Quick look: Supported by United Way and the Doris and Victor Day Foundation, the YMCA offers a six-week summer literacy program for low-income K-6 students who attend day camps in several school districts in the Quad Cities area. Certified teachers, some of whom are paid with federal Title I funds from local school districts, weave literacy activities into the day’s recreational schedule. Last summer, children from 11 sites were tracked; five of the sites implemented the full program, and six others served as control groups.

Scope: 295 students received the full enrichment program in 2014, its third summer

Impact: Students in the enrichment program gained 9.3 percentage points on a multiple-choice literacy test given at the start and the end of the program, compared with gains of 5 points or less at campsites without the program.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as Broadening the Push for Grade-Level Reading

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